This week I've had the great pleasure of seeing the author and journalist Damian Barr at the Central Library, the feminist, writer and former sex worker Melissa Gira Grant at the university, and the new comic book creator and witty auctioneer Scott Davidson at Stockbridge Library. All of these events were free, which just underlines what a great place Edinburgh is to live in - and what's more, I walked to each and every one, so eat your heart out London, I could never do that there!
Melissa Gira Grant spoke at the Edinburgh University Feminists Society.
She's written a book, 'Playing the Whore', which is an attempt to dismantle stereotypes - she says that some police forces in the US and elsewhere tend to have a set image of sex workers, and use the law relating to prostitution to target people that they may really want to apprehend just because they are different. Grant's view is that whilst it is all very well to discuss the rights and wrongs of the industry, the far more pressing issue is to protect (and increase) the rights of people working in it right now. Sex workers have the right to choose their occupation, and only want the same workplace rights as other people, but they are increasingly criminalised and marginalised, especially when the places that they can meet and work together (saunas, shared flats, etc) are closed. She draws comparisons between the situation of sex workers and domestic workers - again, the latter are nearly always women, and again they have few rights because both jobs are often seen as something that women should do for free. This was a powerful, well supported event which challenged many of the ways that we look at women's lives.
Damian Barr's hugely successful book is called 'Maggie and Me':
His first memory of Margaret Thatcher comes from the night on which he and his young sister sat with his mother on the floor of a grim flat in Motherwell, watching the news on a tiny portable telly. They had just left the family home (his dad kept the colour set) and moved in with Logan, his mother's new boyfriend, a violent bully who from then on made Damian's life a misery. On the TV, the Grand Hotel in Brighton was in ruins - the Tory party conference now a famous casualty of the IRA - but Mrs T stood firm. 'Shit doesn't burn' says Damian's mother, 'Maggie won't.' Damian finds that even he is allowed to swear about Maggie without getting cuffed: 'that's how bad she is.' With the support of great teachers and his then girlfriend's family, Damian eventually escaped Lanarkshire and arrived, via Edinburgh, Lancaster and Texas, in London. He wrote for The Times for many years, and is now a freelance journalist, also running a literary salon featuring the likes of none other than Armistead Maupin and Kirsty Wark. He came out as gay some years ago, and last year married his partner: they live in Brighton, but Barr says even that isn't safe from homophobia - this weekend, the English Defence League will march through the town (they tried it last year and were defeated by the community playing 'I Will Survive' through loudspeakers until they begged for mercy.) Last night, Barr was in conversation with the excellent Richard Holloway, former Episcopalian Bishop of Edinburgh - he could not have wished for a better interviewer, and the combination of the two made for an entertaining, and often poignant, evening.
The highpoint of my week, however, was an event for World Autism Day.
Scott Davidson, a client of Art Link Edinburgh, has collaborated with celebrated writer Alan Grant and artist Robin Smith to create a wonderful new comic, Scott Vs The Zombies. Set in Edinburgh, it tells the story of Scott the super hero as he battles zombies in locations as varied as the Castle and a Lothian bus, eventually saving the city and his Mum, Liz. Liz spoke movingly about Scott's young life, which he lived largely through the characters of super heros as this helped him to cope with the everyday challenges of his autism.
Art Link is a charity that sees participation in the arts as a medium of social and personal change, and they encouraged Scott to be the hero of his own story. Liz said that the whole experience has been brilliant for both of them, not only giving Scott much more confidence and self-belief, but also radically changing the way that he his perceived by others. Scott himself also talked about the comic, how much he loves it and how he is now starting to think about plots for the sequel. There then followed an auction of all of the original artwork from the book.
The auctioneer was a zombie himself, and Scott wielded the gavel with expertise, whilst keeping the enthusiastic audience entertained with his witty comments. A great evening for a great young man and an equally great organisation.
Scott vs the Zombies is available for £1.99 at Forbidden Planet, Art Link, and Autism Scotland.
And finally, a cafe. This week I am singling out for praise the wonderful Piece Box, which is now dangerously near to my Edinburgh doorstep.
As a scone addict, I have to say that theirs are some of the best in Edinburgh - they are huge and totally yummy. Last weekend they were filled with raspberries, which made them even more delicious. The Piece Box is a cosy place, with armchairs, cushions and pink chandeliers. Although I always have the scones, there is a groaning counterful of amazing cakes, and a full menu of soups, paninis, breakfasts, rolls, all sorts of stuff. It's open till 5pm most days.
So that was my week. How was yours?