Blog Our Sweet Old Etcetera

Behind the scenes at the Scottish Poetry Library

The Thursday Post: Site Lines

I’ve always loved Bertolt Brecht’s poem ‘Questions from a worker who reads’, about the tendency for history to report the names of the great men and not mention their enablers: ‘Caesar beat the Gauls. / Did he not even have a cook with him?’ and pertinently:

                       In what houses
   Of gold-glittering Lima did the builders live?
   Where, the evening that the Wall of China was finished
   Did the masons go?

I don’t know where our builders and electricians live, but I do know that it takes a lot of people to make a building work: the architects, of course, but alongside them the quantity surveyor, the structural engineer, the mechanical engineer, the project manager, the site manager, the building surveyor (or Genevieve, Euan, Adsley, Bob, Norrie, Stephen, Steve and John)– those are just the people with whom Julie and I sit at the table for our site meetings. Sometimes Jim and Doug are there, too. Each person has their detailed part to play.

And outside sits a Morris & Spottiswood van: they love their ampersand. It’s a feature. Some of their vans have names with local references – ‘mince & tatties’ for example  – and I believe they’re looking for a new pair. Apparently Burke & Hare didn’t go down too well in Edinburgh (unfortunately the van was parked outside an undertaker’s). I thought of rhyme & reason… It’s a bonus to have contractors who like word-play.

Last time we saw the interior carefully wrapped, like a model building made of cardboard. We arrived this morning to find the hoarding even larger (it will have our notice up next week, we hope) while behind it, the steps had disappeared. The low, curving step that marked our boundary has been donated to the Royal Mile Primary School, a neighbourly recycling. We can see clearly now how far the ground floor will extend, and on a morning when dark and bright clouds alternated, how much more light will enter the building.

After looking at paper plans for so long, we are excited to be seeing the first indications of the shape to come. We’re anxious now that all the ‘down time’ away from the building, in which we planned to do catch-up tasks as well as the daily ones, will be over before we know it; planning for the return and re-opening is already beginning… Forest Centre Plus and Orchard Brae are just a parenthesis in the continuing life of the Library. But our temporary home provides us with a different perspective, which is tonic, and a view of windblown trees which bring to mind Larkin’s lines: ‘the unresting castles thresh / In fullgrown  thickness every May… Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.’

Robyn Marsack
SPL Director

Category: Scottish Poetry Library