A Year Ago Today – Deserted Streets

On my Twitter feed I often have a look through my huge Flickr archive of photos to see if I took any photos on this day in previous years, and tweet a few of them. Today I noticed the ones I took on 21st March 2020, a year ago today. I was coming home from visiting a friend on the other side of town; we both knew the Lockdown was coming very soon (it was announced just a couple of days later) and this might be our last chance for a visit for a good while (we had no idea then just quite how long, of course, none of us did, we were all still thinking a few weeks, a couple of months perhaps).

Empty Streets 02

It was around ten or eleven on a Saturday night as I crossed Lothian Road near the Filmhouse. This area is full of restaurants, bars, cinemas and theatres, and so you can imagine on a Saturday evening it is extremely loud and busy. And here it was all but deserted, a couple waiting for a bus and that was it. The Lockdown hadn’t quite started, but the bars, restaurants, cinemas and theatres had all already closed; continental Europe was being ravaged by Covid-19 and cases were climbing alarmingly here. People were scared, streets were empty, places closing; the storm was about to break over us.

Empty Streets 04

Empty Streets 03

It was disturbing to see my city so empty of people on a Saturday night; it was just a preview of what was coming over the next few months. Lockdown hit two days later, we left our bookshop wondering when we would be back, when we would see one another again, when we would be able to see our friends and family again now everything was closed and travel not allowed. We were thinking some weeks, perhaps a couple of months, nobody had any idea just how bad it would be and how long it would keep going for. Over the next few months on furlough I walked the streets of my beloved Edinburgh, and as always my camera went where I did, documenting this strangest time in the city.

Light Traffic 02

No Shopping Here Today 01

On a sunny Easter bank holiday weekend, when the city should have been bursting at the seams with tourists I could stand in the middle of the Royal Mile, devoid of people and traffic, to take pictures, I saw perhaps three or four people on the Esplanade in front of the Castle where normally it would be packed with tourists. It was beyond disturbing, unsettling to walk around this magnificent, old city and see hardly a soul, the very occasional bus going by almost empty. Sounds like the footsteps of the postie delivering mail became a source of reassurance, that some normality still existed. I could hear the music from 28 Days later in my head as I walked through utterly empty Old Town streets, my city, like others all round the entire world, was a ghost town. I’ve seen more people around the town at 4am walking home from the film festival than I did on those strange, spring days…

As I write this a year on we’re still in a second Lockdown after another wave of infections, although the vaccine roll out is giving some hope, and restrictions should slowly ease next month. But in Europe many are experiencing a third wave of infection and the worry is that we may too (as spring weather returned last week I saw large groups of students gathering in the Meadows, flagrantly breaking the Covid restrictions on numbers and distancing, which fills me with anxiety as this is the sort of thing that can lead to more spikes in cases).

We’re now in a very strange mix of fear and hope; it must be a cousin to the strange morass of conflicting feelings those who endured the last war felt. I want to do normal things again. I want to hang out with my friends. I want to sit in a cinema, a pub. I want to be able to go home and see my dad. And we’re all in the same boat.

Tourist Free Zone 03

No Passengers Today

Please keep washing your hands and wear a mask and distance. And don’t dare tell me that doing that infringes your “freedom”. It doesn’t, this isn’t about you and your selfish needs if you think that way, this is about trying to protect everyone around us, our friends, families and communities: you wear a mask to help protect everyone around you; do your bit. We will get through it.

Everything Is Going To Be Alright

My Photo Year, 2020

Looking back through my ever-expanding Flickr uploads (now approaching 22, 000 photos), as usual around this time of year I am picking out some of my favourite photos I snapped this year. Of course I didn’t realise that I would spend so many long, long months in Lockdown, walking alone through almost empty streets of my city. I’ve always enjoyed trying to document life and events through the lens, but in this year of Covid and enforced isolation the camera became part of my coping mechanism for the tedious days after days of Lockdown and Furlough, allowed out the house just once a day, everywhere closed, so few people to see and when you did you all tried to keep your distance (and the even longer months of not being able to see family and friends).

Of course I still documented it – from empty streets in Edinburgh’s Old Town (so disturbing – in a city suffering an overload of tourism, suddenly we were deserted, the Castle Esplanade, Grassmarket, Royal Mile on a sunny Easter holiday weekend, barely a soul to be seen), to exhausted cycle couriers (often the main part of the now limited road traffic during the Lockdown months) to masked and socially distancing people. It was all upsetting, disturbing, depressing, stressful, frightening, and the fact we were all so isolated made it harder to deal with, so again the photography helped me process it.

Paisley Streetart 02
Early on in the year, when things were still seemingly normal – we were reading about this dangerous new virus outbreak in China and Asia, but it all seemed so far away at the time – my colleagues and I were setting up a portable bookshop for the first ever Paisley Book Festival, shuttling back and forth to man the stalls, get books signed at author events etc, enjoying ourselves and supporting a new literary event into the bargain. Naturally I also snapped a few pics wandering around Paisley between events, including some photos of the very excellent street murals I noticed.
Paisley Streetart 01
Central Station 01
A bright, winter’s day in February in Glasgow’s Central Station, the famous station clock hanging from the roof above. In the days before mobile phones many would arrange to meet friends and loved ones below the clock when heading into town. Quick snap while heading on to Paisley for the new book festival
Paisley Book Festival - Jackie Kay 03
The wonderful Jackie Kay at the first Paisley Book Festival.
Paisley Book Festival - Chris McQueer and Alan Bissett 01
Chris McQueer (left), talking to Alan Bissett at the first Paisley Book Festival
Busy Buchanan Street 02
Late February, heading towards Central Station in Glasgow – look how busy Buchanan Street is even on a midweek day in winter. Just weeks later this would be deserted, like streets in almost every other city in Europe
Helen Fields & Mark Douglas-Home Crime Cocktail 01
Still in February and we had a great crime fiction evening with Helen Fields and Mark Douglas-Home at our bookshop. Again we didn’t know then this would be the last in-person event we’d do this whole year (thankfully we have had a programme of online author events though, working with two other Indy bookshops under the We Three Indies banner)
Capital SciFi Con 2020 021
At the Capital SciFi Con in February, chatting to Tanya Roberts. Busy con, much fun catching up with chums, chatting to some authors and artists I know, taking pics. Again with no clue that this would be the last con we could attend for the whole of 2020 at that point….
Capital SciFi Con 2020 017
Rain-washed Cinema
Rain-washed entrance to the Cameo Cinema on a winter’s night. A few weeks after snapping this, the cinemas and theatres were all closed.
Beach Life 012
Early March, and although the international news stories on the advance of Covid infections are worrying, it still seems distant. An early spring day full of sunlight at Portobello sees people enjoying the beach and the coast, but the pandemic is closer than we realised.
Beach Life 011
Seaside Selfie By The Sea Shore
Breezy by the Beach 03
Event Horizon March 2020 016
Mid-March – the international situation is increasingly grave, Covid is advancing across Europe, Italy in particular is in a terrible situation. We can all look at the map of the disease’s advance and know that it’s coming out way. We’re enjoying our Event Horizon evening of literary science fiction readings and music, organised by the Shoreline of Infinity journal. We’re all enjoying it, but there is an undercurrent of unease, we all know as we leave that this would probably be the last live event we would all enjoy together for a while. Again, we had no idea just how long, at this point we thought we may soon be locked down for a couple of months, we had no idea entire festivals and the year of shows and events would be swallowed in this pandemic year.
Event Horizon March 2020 019
Event Horizon March 2020 011
Empty Streets 04
March 21st, a Saturday night. Lothian Road, which I’d normally avoid on a Saturday evening as it is heaving with drunks coming out of the many pubs and restaurants. Not this evening. The Lockdown was just days from being announced, but already the pubs and restaurants had closed. I saw only two people as I headed home from a visit to a friend, which I knew was probably the last time I would get to visit them for a long time. I had no idea then just how long, of course… It was eerie to see such a bustling part of the city devoid of life on a weekend night. It was a taste of what was to come.
Empty Streets 02
Thank You NHS
Late March, 2020. We were now in Lockdown, most shops and businesses closed, workers furloughed. I walked daily, the only time I could be out the house. As I walked down an unbearably quiet Princes Street on a misty afternoon, I noticed every single digital billboard on the bus shelters had been changed to read “thank you, NHS” as a show of support and gratitude for frontline medical staff.
Wee Songbird Singing to the City
Nature was another lifeline during the Lockdown months of isolation – with almost no car traffic, few aircraft flying overhead, hardly any trains, little in the way of people in the city centre, the sounds of the wildlife was heard so much more clearly, most especially the singing of birds. It was joyous. And we needed it.
Hello, Birdy 02
Swan Family 017
Another annual wonder of the natural world, that this year during Lockdown became so much more special and needed – watching our resident breeding pair of mute swans with their new brood of cygnets, following them through weeks and months along the Union Canal from tiny fluffballs to adult-sized adolescents taking wing to start their own lives somewhere else (as I write there is still a single cygnet that has remained with Mama and Papa Swan for the moment)
Swan Family 029
Swan Family 042
Moorhen and Chick 03
Moorhen and its baby chick on the Union Canal
Duck Life 07
Heron on the Water of Leith 03
Berry Bird
Springtime in Scotland 05
Still deep in Lockdown with no end in sight, but the spring came, the natural world moved on as it always did, regardless of the woes in the human world, and the cherry blossoms this year were such a blessing, picking up our battered spirits.
A Tunnel of Cherry Blossoms 02
The “tree tunnel” of cherry blossoms blooming in the Meadows, an annual miracle that we needed this year more than ever. As I was lining these shots up a pair of young women had clearly noticed me engrossed in my camera and were posing in the frame! Made me smile
A Tunnel of Cherry Blossoms 01
Autumn on the Water of Leith 05
As with the blossoms of spring, the colours of autumn were even more appreciated this year – the natural world was a huge comfort and morale booster.
All Shows Are Cancelled
Cinemas, theatres and concert venues all closed. This row of illuminated billboard stands on Lothian Road normally proclaim the shows and acts coming up at the nearby Usher Hall, Royal Lyceum Theatre and Traverse Theatre. Not this spring. No shows, no venues, locked doors, empty streets. As summer arrived even the world-famous Edinburgh festivals were all restricted to a few online only events. No schmoozing in the Author’s Yurt at the Edinburgh International Book Festival for me in 2020, for the first time in many years, although thankfully I did still get to chair – albeit via Zom – at our second Cymera SF literary festival, and we kept out book group going by Zoom and chat, another lifeline.
Circus Lane at Dusk 04
Beautiful Circus Lane at dusk, one of the loveliest spots in the historic New Town
Lucky Liquor
Another shot from a night walk – couldn’t resist the glowing neon sign on this bar.
It Ain't Easy
The mask, the tired expression and trudge with the groceries, from the once-a-day permitted trip to the stores. A regular sight in Lockdown, think we all felt like this a lot of the time
Lockdown Grassmarket 03
Spring and the pubs and restaurants in the Grassmarket should be bustling with tourists on short breaks. Not this year. All closed, many boarded up for safe measure. Boarded over windows, closed bars, empty Old Town streets. I kept thinking I could hear the music from 28 Days Later in my head as I walked alone through it.
The Distance Between Us Keeps Us Safe
The new normal: friends doing socially distanced chat in the grounds of the Gallery of Modern Art
We Are Observing Social Distance
More safely distanced chatting in Princes Street Gardens. As time went on during Lockdown and spring arrived this was about the only way we could see friends and family, in an open space, distanced. Handshakes, hugs, all off the menu.
Light Traffic 02
Walking the city during Lockdown – there was so little traffic even in the middle of the city in the middle of the day I could stand in the centre of the normally busy junction of the Mound and Princes Street quite safely to take this shot.
How We Shop Now 03
This rapidly became the new normal – boy, did we get sick of that phrase quickly. Hardware store in Morningside, allowed to remain open during Lockdown but no customers in the shop. Instead now staff masked and behind a plastic safety screen talk at the door to customers who wait in the street, socially distanced in a queue for their turn to ask for what they need.
Sorry, We're Closed 02
“Sorry, we are closed” – what we thought would be a few weeks or perhaps a couple of months of Lockdown and Furlough was going on. And on. And on….
Skater Life 04
The skaters who usually hang around Bristo Square were still active even during Lockdown – a sport and hobby the could share with their chums while all being outside and safely distanced.
Skater Gal
Lockdown Juggling Practise 06
Some used the enforced downtime of Furlough to learn new skills, like practising their juggling skills on Bruntsfield Links
Operatic 02
Spring had arrived, most places were still closed but there were more people out walking as the weather got nicer and warmer. Walking in the Meadows I heard someone singing an aria and found this woman on Middle Meadow Walk. With no street performers and no music venues for months, this was the first time I had heard someone performing since Lockdown started. I sat under a tree with a newly leafy canopy of spring greenery, in th spring sunlight, as her voice soared upwards into the branches. It was so unexpected and so beautiful I was overwhelmed and cried. It reminded me of the scene in The Shawshank Redemption where the central character plays an opera disc over the prison tannoy, and for a moment all the inmates are transported. Little moments like this were life rafts in the despairing sea of isolation that was Lockdown.
Hello, There
Masks quickly became part of our new everyday life….
Masked in the Mist
Trio 05
Receipt
Three Women, Masked 02
Timmy Two Phones
God I miss my local pubs – this is the Diggers in Gorgie, one of my regular watering holes. Sure you can buy booze in the supermarket and drink at home, but it is the social aspect of the pub, especally your regular local haunts, that you miss.
A Hand to Hold is a Wonderful Thing 01
It wasn’t all loneliness and isolation – 2020 was no doubt a little easier to take if you had a hand to hold. Many of us didn’t though…
We All Need a Hug Sometimes
Elegant Lady in a Hat
Elegant lady in summer dress and hat, almost seemed like a normal scene in this abnormal year….
Time For a Quick Break 01
Water Music
Summer weather arrived, more people took advantage of being outdoors but safely distanced, like this chap sitting in the sun by the old Leamington Lift Bridge, playing his guitar
Summertime, and the Living is Easy 02
Books Are Back
July and our lovely wee bookshop could re-open (with masks, visors and safety screens and regular handwipes, but at least we were open and it felt so nice)
Squirrel and Tree 03
Met this bushy tailed wee chap as I was walking through the Meadows
Akva Returns 01
The pubs re-opened in the summer, with social distancing, tracking and other safety protocols. It was a peculiar experience to go back – I had missed them but now felt wary of being in one, so I only went a couple of times, usually to outdoor beer gardens, only able to meet one friend at a time, distanced and only for a certain time slot. Now as the year end the pubs have all been closed once more for weeks…
A Strange Graduation Time 02
Another unreal aspect to this strange year in our world – I was walking in the summer through Bristo Square, and saw several Asian ladies taking photos of each other in their academic robes. Graduation photos to take home, in a year where the graduates never got to have a graduation ceremony. My friends and I had our graduation in this spot many years ago and I felt terribly sorry that so many this year would miss out on that event, what for most will be a once in a lifetime occurence, maybe last time all their college friends are together before going their own ways to start their new lives.
Vinyl Therapy 01
The pop up music stall re-appeared in the late summer and early autumn on Middle Meadow Walk. The first time in over half a year I had been able to indulge in the simple pleasure of browsing for some new vinyl records. What little pleasures we used to take for granted before Covid.
It's So Tiring 02
Exhausted cycle courier during Lockdown, grabbing a short break by the National Museum of Scotland
Window Shopping on a Misty Night
Getting late in the year and the autumnal and winter haars settled over Edinburgh. I love how this city looks in the mist, especially at night. This was Bruntsfield Place, near Holy Corner, as I was leaving our bookshop one night, I took a freehand night shot, as I had no tripod with me, so it is a bit rough, but I liked how it came out.
Fountain and Spires at Night 03
Saint Cuthbert’s church and the Ross Fountain, from a nocturnal stroll through the town
Twilight Fortress 02
Edinburgh Castle at night, viewed from the gathering darkness below in Princes Street Gardens
Hot Food 02
The small open-air cafe in Princes Street Gardens at dusk
Steamed Up
Steamed up windows at night in the Mayfly cafe, Bruntsfield
Evening at Cafe Grande 02
Looking through the window of Cafe Grande after dark, Bruntsfield Place.
Misty Evening in Bruntsfield 02

 

Winter Hills 05
Winter arrives – snow on the great, volcanic bulk of the Campsie Hills over the Christmas holidays (such as they were this year)

Lockdown Photo Journal

We were allowed one single, solitary exercise walk during the height of Lockdown. For those living alone this was especially hard, essentially meaning being isolated at home for the bulk of the day and evening, so those walks were important to my mental health as well as physical. Of course where I go the camera goes, and that was another way for me to cope with the months of stress and depression during Lockdown, documenting my city during these strangest of times

Empty Streets 04

Empty Streets 03

Empty Streets 02

Coming home from the last visit to a friend before Lockdown – even though the official announcement was still a day or two away at this point, the cinemas and bars and restaurants had already closed. Saturday night on Lothian Road, lined with bars, restaurants, two cinemas, two theatres and a concert hall all nearby, a place I would avoid late on a weekend evening because it is so busy with drunks, and here it was, the only other people I saw a couple waiting on their own for a bus home. It was eerie and unsettling to see this normally busy, lively area so quiet – I have seen more life there at 3am walking home from a late night Film Festival show… This was a harbinger of how my city, and countless others around the world, would soon become.

Thank You NHS

Back in late March, early days of Lockdown, little traffic, the normal noises of the city mostly absent, and a haar had descended on the city, as it often does here, the mist rolling in from the mighty Firth of Forth, adding to the sense of quiet and fear. On this day as I walked Princes Street I saw the digital advertising billboards on the bus shelters had all been changed to “Thank you to our amazing NHS staff”, one after the other after the other progressing down this normally bustling street.

Rebus Will Not Drink Here Today

The famous Oxford Bar, where Ian Rankin’s fictional Edinburgh detective from his Rebus novels likes to drink, as does the author himself. Closed like the other bars. His birthday fell during Lockdown, so Ian took a bottle of beer and a glass, walked to the Ox, poured his pint and had it standing outside the closed pub.

Viva NHS

Rainbows in windows and on the streets, and support for our NHS workers were everywhere. As with other nations the health professionals were overwhelmed, and in addition they were in the front line so even more vulnerable to infection, and the risk of bringing that home to family (some simply didn’t see their families for ages to minimise travel and risk). And still they looked after us as best they could.

Pub and Castle - Both Closed

Bright sunny spring day – the Blue Blazer bar in the foreground, the western flank of Edinburgh Castle atop its great volcanic rock in the background, Both closed.

No Shopping Here Today 01

Normally bustling George Street in April sunshine, all the fancy, expensive shops closed, no shoppers, no tourists, barely any traffic.

Tourist Free Zone 03

Vid - Deserted Royal Mile

The top of the Royal Mile on a bright spring day. This should be heaving with tourists, instead barely a soul to be seen. As I walked the eerily deserted streets that would normally be so busy I kept hearing the music from the film 28 Days Later in my head. Much as we moan about legions of tourists it was, frankly, scary and unsettling and disturbing to see my city like this, still a glorious, grand old dame on a day like this, but with nobody there to admire her save me and my lens. An uncanny feeling to be able to stand in the middle of the road in this UNESCO world heritage site and be able to do a 360 degree pan with the camera safely because there was no traffic…

The Distance Between Us Keeps Us Safe

Ladies having a socially-distanced safe chat early in Lockdown, in the grounds of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. I should have been enjoying the Ray Harryhausen at 100 exhibition there of this wizard of cinema, a movie maker who filled my early cinema going with sheer wonder. But the galleries were closed – the grounds remained openk so I walked to them often, enjoying the sculpture gardens.

Lockdown Grassmarket 01

Empty Old Town Streets

The Grassmarket, right below the Castle, normally packed with locals coming and going and many tourists, stag and hen parties and students enjoying the many bars and restaurants. Some of the inns here were centuries old when Robert Burns came to stay in them. Now empty, just me and my camera, some of the old pubs boarded up as they were worried about vandals or looters early on, which added to the strange empty feeling of the city.

All Closed

Cockburn Street in the Old Town. Just a few years ago Hollywood was in town shooting scenes for the Avengers at the top of this street. Look at it here…

The Tired Expression Says It All

Quick, street shot from the hip, lady early on in Lockdown carrying her groceries home during the period when a lot of shelves were empty and some items hard to get, adding to the overall feeling of worry, stress, fear. Not a technically good shot, being hurriedly shot from the hip, but it captured that oh so bloody tired of it and wondering how long the road would be feeling, I thought.

How We Shop Now 03

Hardware store on Morningside Road, one of the few businesses still open. Nobody allowed in during Lockdown, so they had a screen at the door, people socially distanced in queues outside, waiting their turn, then asking for what they needed, it would be brought to them at the door and they would pay by contactless card. This would become a model later on as Lockdown eased a little more, my own bookshop did this sort of “click and collect” until we were allowed people back inside in the last couple of weeks (with many safety rules implemented).

Social Distancing at the Bike Co-op 02

Cycle shops stayed open too, peforming much needed maintenance – many took to bikes to avoid what was still running of public transport (to avoid more possible infection vectors). Bus drivers and trams kept going on reduced service here, props to those who kept them running for those who had to keep working and needed the transport, while the bike shops made socially distanced queues and saw people at the doors for repairs and advice to keep them going too. I noticed most bike shops also had air pumps and water outside so cyclists could use them if needed without coming in, just a nice little extra but of help being offered to the community.

A Tunnel of Cherry Blossoms 01

A Tunnel of Cherry Blossoms 02

Not all doom and gloom though, nature kept ticking away regardless of the worries oppressing the human world. The cherry blossoms performed their annual magic, something always lovely to see, but this year oh so much more special and wonderful and needed. As I was lining up this shot of the “tree tunnel” in the Meadows I hadn’t noticed these young, masked women had spotted me and posed for the shot!

Cathedral, No People

Saint Giles Cathedral and Parliament Square, with not another soul to be seen. Normally so many tourists here, some sitting on the steps in the sun, resting their feet, lawyers coming and going from the nearby High Court and the Advocate’s Faculty. Not now. I’m not used to seeing it like this, it was upsetting and worrying, but again mediating it through my camera lens helped a bit, and I was determined to document my city during this time.

We Are Observing Social Distance

Safe, social distanced chatting in Princes Street Gardens. My walks brought me here often as a place to rest mid-walk before going home. With almost no traffic the sounds of the birds in the Gardens was so much more obvious and wonderful, while the spring weather meant they were perfumed with the scent of blooming flowers, all of which helped me cope with the endless days of isolation and worry.

The Line for Snacks 01

As the months passed a few places re-opened doing takeaway only coffee, like this one in the Meadows. My god the luxury of being able to buy a coffee again, even if you had to take it outside, the first brew I hadn’t made for myself in weeks and weeks. The simple pleasure of being able to buy a cup of java then sit in the park with it…

Spread Out For Safety

Socially distanced walking, jogging and cycling on the Union Canal at Fountainbridge. I avoided the narrower parts of the canal walkway – not enough space for social distancing, and if people left space between walkers then joggers and cyclists would go right through the safe gap, huffing and puffing as they did, which was alarming under the pandemic conditions, so I stopped walking those areas and only using the segments like this where there was more room for everyone to be safer.

Just One Passenger Today 02

Single, solitary passenger waiting for a tram at what should be rush hour, in the Haymarket area, next to bus and train interchanges, should have been packed with commuters, but this time just one chap.

Dominion 01

Dominion 02

Cinemas closed even before the official Lockdown. Normally see several films a month and it was very strange to go so long without being able to see the silver screen (yes, I can watch at home, it isn’t the same experience), and this incuded my annual sojourn at the world oldest continually running film fest, the Edinburgh International Film Festival, which didn’t happen this year, of course. The closed and shuttered cinemas were stuck in time, their posters advertising current and coming attractions from just before everything stopped, like a time capsule. This is the family-owned Indy cinema The Dominion in Morningside.

Yoga Al Fresco 01

Lockdown Juggling Practise 06

Some made use of local green spaces – while I walked with the camera or sat on a bench in the parks to read for a while, others were performing their yoga exercises on Bruntsfield Links, or learning to juggle.

Life Among the Flowers

God, how important nature was to many of us in lifting our spirits – the return of life and colour and light in the spring is always welcome after winter here, but this year it was so badly needed to help us remember there was still magic and beauty to be found.

It's a Quiet Springtime This Year 02

So few people in the earlier parts of Lockdown even in the heart of the city in Princes Street Gardens, just below the now closed Castle.

Hooded and Masked

Masked and hooded in the Gardens during Lockdown.

A Hand to Hold is a Wonderful Thing 01

Some were fortunate enough to have someone to hold their hand during this long, dark, isolating time.

Hello, There

Mask and Turban

Mask or turban, which to wear today….

Operatic 02

Operatic Vid

We had to look for any small win, any little thing to cheer ourselves. One bright day, walking alone in the Meadows, I heard a beautiful voice singing arias, and found this young woman. I hadn’t heard anyone busking in weeks, let alone singing like this. The birds chirped in the trees above as she sang, voice clear, soaring out and up into the branches above to join those birds. I sat under a tree and listened, it was so sublime and wonderful and magical I cried at the beauty I had so unexpectedly found. It reminded me of the moment from The Shawshank Redemption where Tim Robbins’ character breaks the rules to play an opera piece over the prison tannoy, and everyone stops, all those locked within the walls lifted by the beauty of the song and the music. Oh god, it was just beautiful for a few, precious moments.

Trio 04

Masked trio strolling the Union Canal during Lockdown.

Vid - a Walk Through the Misty Trees

Taking Shelter

Masked in the Mist

Misty Day 016

The haar returned as spring became summer and Lockdown rolled on. Despite the weather I went walking – I had to get out even for a while, and besides, it is more like walking through a light cloud than rain. Naturally I took photos and video clips as I walked. Edinburgh looks wonderful, draped in this soft, silken blanket…

Water Music

As the weather rurned to warmth and sun, more were out walking, some found good spots, like this chap sitting by the old Leamington Lift Bridge to play his guitar in the sunlight.

Time For a Quick Break 01

It's So Tiring 01

It's So Tiring 02

With little road traffic much of what was on the road was cycle couriers, working round the clock delivering meals – with restaurants closed only home delivery was available, and these guys were criss-crossing the city all the time. I would see them in the same few spots on my walks, where they had found areas to grab a quick, much-needed rest. Many were clearly exhausted.

Dalry Road, Midsummer Night 02

Sring had turned to summer as Lockdown went on. I went out for a stroll on Midsummer Night and took a few photos. This was after eleven at night, an hour after the summer sun had finally set, but in Scotland at Midsummer the skies just don’t really get dark. Even after the sun goes down there is a long, faerie light of twilight, the sky remains aglow and by 3am the sun is already rising again. We are not in the land of the mmidnight sun, but we do overlook their front lawn.

Keeping the City Tidy

Even during Lockdown the city had to be kept clean. While many of us were furloughed the bin lorries still came round, the street cleaners still picked up the litter and made our city look nicer.

Plenty of Parking Spaces Today 03

The concrete monstrosity of the multi-storey car park which previous generations of town planners allowed to be constructed right next to the Castle (what where they thinking??). Horrid, brutal structure and jarringly out of place where it is, but during Lockdown, totally empty of cars, and shot in black and white, it looked photogenic. I nipped in during a walk to snap this thinking I may never see it empty like this again…

Grassmarket Slowly Returns To Life 02

Grassmarket Slowly Returns To Life 01

The pubs re-open with strict distancing and safety rules next week, but the beer gardens and pavement cafes re-opened just a few days ago in Scotland (where Lockdown rules have been more cautious – as they should be – than those rules enacted by Westmonster down south). It was odd to see the Grassmarket like this, still quiet by what normal standards would have, but at least some life, compared to the deserted, boarded up scenes I shot a few weeks ago in this spot.

I shoot so many photos each year, and took even more during Lockdown, partly to document the times in my city, partly as one of my coping methods. I was also live tweeting video and photos as I walked, as a sort of “virtual walk” for those who couldn’t get out at all to enjoy, and several people got in touch to say they appreciated that and that those pics and videos helped them when they were confined, shielding, which made me feel a bit better, at least something postive had come out of it, however little. My photos went past the 21,000 uploads mark on my Flickr during Lockdown, and my daily views shot up as people were stuck inside, often looking online for diversion, so I hope those too helped some people pass the long, Lockdown days.

Books Are Back

We’re still in the early easing of restrictions here, on guard, they could change if more infections appear, but let us hope not. I am back to work, we can let people in – carefully – to our bookstore once more, which is wonderful. Two of our very young readers even dressed up in costumes for their first visit in months, which made us happy. Things are still so uncertain, many places will simply not re-open, those that have will have to struggle and adapt to new ways of doing things, but at least we are back.

Life During Lockdown: Some Reading & Activities For You

I’ve noticed a number of my book and comics chums on Twitter very generously making some of their works available for free online – short prose stories, comics, activities you can download and print off (like pictures to colour in) to keep the kids occupied during the virus Lockdown, videos and more. I’ve been re-tweeting those but felt it may be better to compile a list on here that people could refer to (and frankly I feel the need to do something positive, however small).

It’s wonderful of these creative friends to make material available free just to help people a little, especially when they, like most of the rest of us, are taking a big financial hit during the crisis (so please, when it is all over, consider buying some of their books, preferably from an Indy bookshop if you can, or from their own site).

I will add to the list as I see others posting material, or if you are an author or artist making some material or activities available online, drop me a line here – lestat_ultraviolet (at) msn (dot) com – or get a hold of me on twitter and let me know so I can add it here as a handy resource for everyone while they are cooped up and wondering what they can do. If it is material or reading for children, let me know roughly what age range you are aiming at.

ALL-AGES

C o l i n   B e l l  &  N e i l   S l o r a n c e

I’ve reviewed Colin Bell and Neil Slorance‘s delightful Dungeon Fun and Pirate Fun on here previously. It is terrific for young readers and adults alike (or better still, read them together!), and the guys have made both series free to download here. The guys have also made a Dungeon Fun Colouring Compendifun available to download too.

L e  V a r   B u r t o n

Actor and director LeVar Burton (of Star Trek fame), is lending his wonderful voice to some readings online, doing one for children, one for Young Adults and one for adults each week – check his Twitter feed for details and updats.

FOR YOUNG READERS

S a r a h   M c I n t y r e

Sarah McIntyre is an old chum and a wonderful creator of comics, picture books and more, and often encourages her young readers to join in with their own artwork and ideas. She has activity sheets based on her various books available to download from her website here, and Drawing With Sarah videos on her YouTube channel. Sarah has Don’t Call Me Grumpycorn coming out in May, and her and regular partner-in-crime Philip Reeve’s book Kevin’s Great Escape is available now.

N e i l   G a i m a n

(illustration from The Graveyard Book, art by the fabulous Chris Riddell)

Neil requires little introduction from me, I think! He has videos of himself and others reading from his wonderful younger reader’s books Coraline and The Graveyard Book available free on Mouse Circus here.

M e t a p h r o g

I have adored Glasgow-based Metaphrog‘s work for years, from their beautiful Louis graphic novels to their recent run of quite gorgeous graphic adaptations of tales by Hans Christian Andersen, with The Little Mermaid and The Red Shoes (highly recommended, beautiful books for young readers that adults can enjoy too). They have their new graphic novel Bluebeard coming this May, and have acitivities for young readers to enjoy – download pages from The Little Mermaid to colour in here.

M o o s e   K i d   C o m i c s

These are older, but still online, still free and I’d imagine still new to a lot of young readers – an anthology of some terrific UK-based comics creators who made some issues to inspire children with quality comics fun. The two issues and the special include works from Jamie Smart, Sarah McIntyre, Mark Stafford, Steve Tillotson, Gary Northfield and many more – you can read them online or download them here. If your young readers have been enjoying works like Dogman or Bunny Vs Monkey, they will love these.

P a p e r c u t z

Papercutz have very generously made a bunch of their comics collections for younger readers available to download free, including The Smurfs, Chloe the New Girl, and Dinosaur Explorers – check them out here.

D o l l y   P a r t o n

Dolly is much loved in the booktrade, as the world-famous singer is also well-known for being a huge supporter of children’s literacy, and as part of her charitable work in making books available, she is doing a bedtime story on her YouTube channel for younger readers!

D a v i d   W a l l i a m s

Comedian and writer, and bestselling children’s author, David Walliams is doing daily readings from his works to entertain young readers during the Lockdown – details on his site here.

O l i v e r   J e f f e r s

Oliver Jeffers is a firm favourite in our bookshop, and is doing a Stay At Home Storytime every day – you can find it on Oliver’s Instagram here.

ADULT READERS

T a d e   T h o m p s o n

I’ve been recommending Tade Thompson – now an Arthur C Clarke Award winner (see, told you he was good!) since I read the first of his superb Rosewater series, set in a near-future Nigeria. Tade has his collection of seven stories, Household Gods and Other Narrative Offences online to download and read free during Lockdown. The PDF can be found here, the MOBI version here, and the Epub edition here.

N e i l   G a i m a n

Edinburgh International Book Festival - Neil Gaiman 06
(Neil signing at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, pic from my Flickr)

Neil Gaiman has been one of my favourite authors for many years, and a jolly nice chap to boot. He has short stories, essays and interviews available on his site that you can read here, and you should check his Twitter for more material or links to fellow creators and their work that he often shares. For younger readers you can find video of Neil and others reading from the wonderful Coraline and The Graveyard Book on Mouse Circus here.

S h o r e l i n e   O f   I n f i n i t y

Shoreline of Infinity is an excellent journal of science fiction produced here in Edinburgh (disclaimer, I write book reviews for Shoreline), home to to short fiction, poetry, articles, reviews and more (with an associated regular happening, Event Horizon, that takes place in Edinburgh with readings, music and more). In the spirit of helping out during self-isolation and Lockdown, you can get a taster of the first eleven issues free until April 4th.

A d r i a n   T c h a i k o v s k y 

Cymera 2019 - Gareth Powell, Ken MacLeod, Adrian Tchaikovsky02
(Adrian Tchaokovsky, on the far right, with Gareth Powell and Ken MacLeod after our Cymera Festival event in 2019)

I’ve seriously enjoyed Adrian’s Children of Time and Children of Ruin in the last couple of years – clever, immersive, millennia-spanning science fiction with an evolutionary slant – and was lucky enough to chair a talk with him, Ken MacLeod and Gareth Powell at the first Cymera Festival last year. Adrian has put up Short Changes, a collection of short stories (including one with Keris McDonald, which you can get hold of free here.

A l i e t t e   d e   B o d a r d

I love Aliette’s work – she crafts some amazing worlds that are outwith the regular, Anglophone Western science fiction and fantasy tradition, different, enticing. She has a short story, In the Lands of the Spill, on Avatars Inc (artwork by Priscilla Kim)

COMICS

L e e   R o b s o n

Lee Robson, along with collaborators Alfie Gallagher, Jim Lavery and Lord Brignos, has put up some of their comics work from Zarjaz and FutureQuake. As many of you will know, those are some top UK Indy small press comics works, with a heavy 2000 AD tilt (in fact the guys at 2000 AD like them and some of the official writers and artists have been known to do the odd strip for the fanzines!). They have a collection of works available to download free here.

2 0 0 0   A D

The droids at the Galaxy’s Greatest Comics are making Thrill Power available free during the lockdown – you need to register or use the 2000 AD App, but the material is free, including an entire 400-page Judge Dredd: the Complete Case Files Volume 5 (which includes the legendary Block Mania and Apocalypse War tales), with work by John Wagner, Alan Grant, Brian Bolland, Mick McMahon, Carlos Ezquerra, Steve Dillon and more.

J o e   L a t h a m

Joe Latham has generously put three of his Indy comics up on Gumroad – A Seed Named Hope, Digby is a Wizard and Losing Sleep – to download for free here.

B r y a n   T a l b o t

Bryan is, for my money, one of the foremost masters of comics in the UK, award-winning writer, artist and damned fine chap to boot. James Robertson, who maintains Bryan’s official site (great place to see a lot of his work, previews of upcoming work and more), has worked with Bryan to make a bundle of Bryan’s comics work available online, covering a huge swathe of Bryan’s long career, with CBR versions here and PDF versions available here.

M a r v e l

Mighty Marvel Comics has made a bunch of comics works available free online via their Marvel Unlimited App, and nice to see they are encouraging readers to buy issues from local Indy comics shops once it is safe again too.

Quiet Streets

I took a long walk on a nice day off at the end of the week, avoiding my usual refreshment stops in a pub on the way (this was before they were closed, but I had already decided not to risk going into any for a while). Gorgeous spring light that day, but only a handful of people out, even before the Lockdown. This was rush hour on Lothian Road, normally nose to tail traffic at five in the evening and busy busy stops, but here you can see just a few people, sensibly spacing themselves out to keep “social distance”:

Bus Stop 02

Next to the bus stop is the Usher Hall, the Lyceum Theatre and Traverse Theatre, and these illuminated displays normally extoll the upcoming concerts and shows, but with the theatres and nearby cinems already closed by this point, there are now shows, and the posters for them have all been taken down, all very sad (for my own part theEdinburgh International Film Festival which I always attend and the second Cymera literary science fiction festival I take part in during June are also now cancelled.)

All Shows Are Cancelled

Eleven at night on Lothian Road – with several cinemas, theatres and many bars and restaurants this area is usually extremely busy on a Saturday night, but here it was quite unsettlingly quiet, rather eerie, actually. Bars, theatres all closed, people were already staying at home even before the Lockdown was announced, I saw perhaps two people where normally this spot is so loud and busy with pub crowds that I’d avoid it on a Saturday evening:

Empty Streets 02

Empty Streets 04

One spot of life, a solitary shopper in a late night corner store:

Open Seven Days

Much needed restocks arriving at a local store:

Men At Work

Took a walk with chum and his hound on Sunday, lovely bright day, the streets again were unnaturally quiet, although away from the main roads the parks, walkways by the river and canal and so on were quite busy, people obviously thinking these were a bit safer to let them get out but still have some safe space between them.

Enjoying the Spring Sunshine While Keeping Our Distance

Passing over the Union Canal I saw this couple enjoying the spring sunshine by having a drink on the rear deck of their house barge:

House Barge

Leamington Lift Bridge

Meanwhile this chap was using the park to keep his space from other people but also practise his juggling skills!

Juggling in the Park 02