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20 years of The Leither: A reader writes


It may seem overly deferential – some might prefer the word ‘snivelling’ – to use the occasion of the Leither’s birthday celebrations to devote this column to singing its praises.

You might imagine that the only reasonable explanation is that editor Billy possesses photographs of me so scandalous and incriminating that they’d even cause mild embarrassment to a Tory back-bencher. But in this you would, to the best of my knowledge at least, be wrong.

On hearing that this issue was marking twenty years of the magazine, the first thoughts that came to mind had nothing to do with writing for it – though it turns out I’ve been doing that for almost half of its lifetime – and everything to do with discovering it as a reader some years earlier.

I first experienced the Leither in what I consider the traditional and correct manner: spotting a copy in a pub and thinking “ooh, what’s that then?”, before beginning to leaf through it, ordering another pint, then leafing through some more of it.

In an algorithm-driven world of targeted marketing, barely recognisable from our intermittently-online, smartphone-free existence of 2004, that seems a thoroughly healthy way to happen upon a new thing. And I strongly suspect that many readers – perhaps even most – are still discovering the magazine that way.

Three things close to my heart – local media, print journalism and the community pub – that find themselves under varying degrees of existential threat, finding happy conjunction in the pages of this magazine, and in the manner of its distribution.

In case alarm bells are ringing, this isn’t about to turn into one of those aimlessly wistful “do you remember the good old days” articles. I’ve no wish to be that person who loudly decries all forms of progress based on their hazy memories of twenty years before, or their imagined ones of forty years before that.

(I’m not angling for a column in the Telegraph here – and in any case, I’m missing several basic requirements for that job, such as a hyphenated surname and a hereditary peerage.)

I love that the world is more connected now, even if we’re still getting the hang of managing that. I love that it’s now possible to find your chosen community in a disparate group of like-minded souls dotted all over the world, based on a niche interest you once thought was yours alone. But I also love that, if you so wish, you can still find your community – perhaps as closing time beckons – in Nobles or the Port.

And of course, neither of those pubs is exactly as it was in 2004. Leith itself is a much-changed place from when issue one of this magazine hit the shelves – or, to be strictly accurate, the mantlepieces, tables and windowsills. Old faces, much missed, have been replaced with new. Venerable institutions have disappeared or transformed while others have quietly established themselves. Trams have replaced the tramworks that replaced the buses that replaced the trams.

But it’s still undeniably, indefinably, unmistakably Leith. There are enough constants, enough familiar figures and – crucially – enough community hubs to make sure of that. These things don’t just give a place its character – though of course they do that as well – but also help us make sense of the changes happening around them.

For two decades, this magazine has been one of those valuable constants – in the best possible way, it feels like it’s been around even longer – and it’s been a pleasure to make some small contribution towards it.

(By way of contrast, I’m not sure I’d cope at all well with living in a sprawl of new-builds, with no shared history and no shared hub to speak of, save for a mini retail park with a drive-through Costa and a big Aldi. But I can say with certainty that you’ll never find anything remotely akin to the Leither in one of them.)

Then again, you won’t find anything much like the Leither in many places, because like so many of the more interesting things in life, it’s a labour of love for all concerned. And given that you’re reading this, presumably of your own volition, you probably don’t need me to sell it to you – leaving aside the facts that (a) it’s free and (b) I’ve just spent the larger part of a page doing exactly that.

But there are any number of similarly brilliant initiatives – in music, art, food, drink, theatre, you name it – that exist in defiance of economics, simply because a few determined people decided that the world would be that little bit better for these things existing rather than not. Plenty of them can be found around these parts. You might even have discovered some of them in these pages over the years.

So I’ll end with a plea – to myself as much as anyone – to seek out the unusual, the independently-minded, the passion projects, in whatever field takes your fancy. In a shiny corporate world, they’re all too easy to overlook, but you’ll miss them when they’re gone.

And you may as well stick a Leither under your arm to read along the way. ■

Tom Wheeler

A ‘heightened’ version of The Shore, Leith


Three things close to my heart, local media, print journalism & community, find happy conjunction in these pages


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