The Tipping Point

Imagine a wine glass. A short stem with a deep chamber for red. The polite thing to do is to only half-fill the glass, that the liquid inside does not slosh out over the top, but sometimes after a difficult day one might decide to fill it to it’s fullest extent. How much is too much? At which point is it untenable to drink from the glass without a nursing slurp? What is the precise point it spills over the top?

I’m writing this from my old chair in my parents living room. Though they moved house from the village of my childhood a few years ago, the furniture remains the same. Our positions on the sofa are also the same. Funny how chair imprints carry like that, do we sit in the chair or does the chair sit in us?

We sit in the chair – stop being obtuse.

My trip back to Edinburgh and my first night were uneventful enough. After a month of movement, travelling to and for work, changing house and bed every other day, or just wandering aimlessly, I appreciated the chance to just totally relax by myself. The kittens, or almost just regular cats now, are far less boisterous these days. It was good. A very tranquil one with San Miguel and cartoons.

My second day though was full of energy. I went to my friend’s sister’s birthday lunch for a while. Later on, another friend got in touch and I heeded the call. Another long, sloppy, day drinking into night drinking, just like old times, into my favourite drinking game, the only one worth my time – Never Have I Ever. It was a bit muted this time as we appear to have asked a lot of the big questions before but, then, circumstances change. It was nice to be able to slip back into it all so easily.

The cars are driving on the correct side of the road, if safely being able to cut brigands riding up on your flank is of any importance to you. The bacon is also preferable. I have eaten at least three cooked breakfasts already and it’s only day two. The Czech cuisine, despite being awash with pork, does not seem to have discovered the savoury delight that is bacon. The street map has remained the same, there are no complicated adjustments which have been made in my absence. Still, despite these details, and the presence of my parents and some of my favourite people, I find myself often thinking of Prague.

The differences between the two places are manifold. The similarity is more arresting.

Cities, much like humans in their own right, are made by history. You can go back to the geography of a place and see dramatic explosions, glaciers, and earthquakes to make the land and carve it up. Then you get the reasons these places became important living spaces, Prague and Edinburgh have defensible hills, Prague is on a river and Edinburgh’s old centre is not far from the sea. Most interesting to me though is the past couple hundred years.

Czechia has been host to several different imperial powers interspersed with brief self-rule. Scotland has meanwhile been in one Union for over 300 years. The impact this has on development is stark. While Prague, still freshly liberated from Communism, has invested in it’s growth, Edinburgh has been content with a steadier rate of growth with no sudden expanse in opportunity. Though Edinburgh has it’s vibrant Festival and Fringe; Prague breathes vibrancy at every turn.

The difference, for me, is written in the buildings. I have written a little of Prague’s architecture in previous posts, but what of Edinburgh?

I think it’s missing at least 30 or 40 years of buildings. It’s like in the early 20th Century they decided it was pretty much done in the centre and a lot of the periphery, and new things just weren’t built. Hence, there’s a jump from Edwardian terraces to the concrete cancer brutalist monstrosities in George Square. There is a severe deficiency in variety as a result, as after the atrocity of the University of Edinburgh, the civic associations have been out in force to stop almost any development. There is a case to involve economic history in this narrative, but frankly I am not writing an essay.

The base point, brass tacks, Edinburgh is kind of static while Prague has more of a growth mindset. Edinburgh is great for people who already have experience or connections in some of the better paid financial services here, but otherwise it is a greasy pole for young people. There’s a reason “So and So has gone to London” is such a common refrain. But I don’t fancy London for growth. Its property bubble, and it is a bubble, is rapidly inflating and will pop. Also, fiver for pints and tenner plus for cigarettes? No thanks. I don’t even care if it is better paid there, the mental arithmetic does not balance.

So, Prague. Where the people are beautiful, the jobs plentiful if you have some skill, the food cheap, the beer cheaper than water, the public transport effective, the buildings interesting, and where 80 million heartbeats per minute make all the percussive noise a person could need to keep it vibrant.

I have filled the glass as far as it can go, but I’m still going. I’m going to need a bigger glass.


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