Reframing the Tram Works
If you want to start a lively conversation in Leith, just mention the trams. It’s guaranteed to get a reaction, one way or the other. I have lived and worked on Balfour Street for over 16 years, over a decade of that has seen road works outside my door. Back in the early days I was optimistic that a tram stop in front of my fitness studio would be A Very Good Thing Indeed.
Instead it has become a test of endurance and staying power. It struck me that the tram works in Leith are a metaphor for the larger world in general. I can’t control either, and they both seem pretty chaotic, so it’s up to me to work out how to be happy anyway. ‘Reframing’ is a neuro-linguistic programming phrase for taking a current situation and putting it in a different context. Metaphorically taking a picture you’re not keen on, and putting it in a lovely new picture frame. You could redefine a ‘problem’ as a ‘challenge’ – same issue, different context.
During the first tram works I was a member of the Leith Walk stakeholder committee – representing the Federation of Small Businesses. The committee was formed to liaise between local people and tram management. There were long and rambling Thursday evening meetings at McDonald Road Library, minutes were never taken. It was incredibly tedious, infuriating, and didn’t make an iota of difference. ‘Community engagement’ at its best... Not.
So this time around, I decided to go turtle-like and pull my head in and try to ignore the whole thing. I have accepted that the disruption will eventually end, and that we may even end up with a functioning tram. The work does seem better managed this time.
Old timers may remember ‘Happy Birthday Hole’ in 2008 at the end of Balfour Street – it appeared on the front cover of the Edinburgh Evening News. A birthday party was held for a long-standing hole in Leith Walk, with a birthday cake and candles.
Some Carillion road workers popped the party balloons with lit cigarettes, there was a stooshie and the owner of the now-defunct Snail Mail ended up being shoved into the hole. Not a pleasant afternoon. This time around the road workers are more professional, but to my frustration, do not work any quicker.
So, how can you ignore the tram works when they are on your doorstep, rubbish blowing around like tumbleweed and metal barriers everywhere?
Go for a Run, Bike Ride or fast walk: getting your heart rate up for at least half an hour continuously so you feel puffed (but not absolutely knackered) is a proven way to release feel good neurotransmitters (hello dopamine!), and there are many fine running routes from Leith. Around The Shore, Leith Links, Holyrood Park or even up Calton Hill to appreciate Edinburgh’s skyline (and new Turd Hotel).
Pick up one bit of Rubbish: Okay, so it wasn’t you that dropped it in the first place, perhaps a feral seagull pulled it out of the bin, or a feral fly tipper tipped it there. But as the Queen of Leith Mary Moriarty says “most of us don’t want to live in a midden.” I have continually overflowing bins outside the studio, folks over-filling communal bins (just walk up the road to an empty bin please). It’s a problem we all share, but by picking up just one piece of litter each day, I like to think I’m helping to solve the problem a little bit.
Get some Green: Getting out to a green space, whether a park, garden or allotment is an antidote to concrete civic concerns. The colour green has a calming property and it’s nice to immerse oneself in nature.
Be Kind: It’s tempting to bellyache about the inconvenience of the tram works but that conversation is “so 2008”. Instead, focus your mind on things that make you happy. Only you have control over your thoughts. If you can be one thing, be kind. It really makes a difference.
Leith Labyrinth Game: Tell your friends (and customers) they’ll get the secret directions on how to access Balfour Street if they dare to drive into the maze. It encourages walking.
Ask for Help: If you run a local business that is struggling, our MSP Ben Macpherson reminds us that there’s a Business Continuity Fund operated by Trams to Newhaven (on their website). They ask for a lot of paperwork, but I know of a couple of Leith Walk businesses that have had success.
Visit Local Shops: We can all agree the easiest way around Leith is on foot (as long as you don’t want to cross Leith Walk), so go for a wander and buy something from a local shop. Small businesses need your support. The supermarkets may be short of supplies, but chances are your local independent retailer will have something for you.
Stretch and Breathe: If it all gets too much, lie on the floor and do some stretches. Take some deep breaths. Unclench your jaw and let your shoulders and neck relax.
And finally, get a pair of earplugs for really bad days.
Make this your screensaver and, when there’s mayhem outside? Stare at it… serenity will follow