We gather around the statue of Queen Victoria on Kirkgate at the bottom of Leith Walk, where we are advised that the next 90 minutes will contain “graphic content” and warned to watch out for dog poo and cyclists.
Paul Stuart is our guide and you would be hard pushed to think of a better one – albeit a small selection of Leith's finest jaikies are fairly insistent on pointing out that he is “talkin' sh*te” and various other things I dare not relate here. One lady jaikie actually attacked Paul last week, he tells us. “Naw ah didnae,” she demurs, “it wis two weeks ago”.
By the time the insults of the group fade behind us, and we are communing with the gentleman outdoor drinkers of the Central Bar, we know things about Queen Victoria that would make your eyes water. Local colour seeps into our tour again as Paul is telling us about the Opium Wars and HSBC's creation to launder drug money in Hong Kong and a rotund chap with a can of something powerful decrees him to be “a f***ing halfwit!” before exhorting “come on Celtic!”.
This is hugely entertaining, packed full of fascinating facts and gloriously unique, in the extent to which the locals get involved. As we sit in Tesco's carpark (aka Leith Central Station), Paul reads aloud to us from the works of Irvine Welsh. The Fs and the Cs fall like bombs on Dresden. And as shoppers, young and old pass us by, not a single one looks askance, not even the two patrolling police officers. They nod and give thumbs up. It is a peculiarly “Leith” experience. “Are you English people understanding me ok?” asks Paul of the young couple whose expressions betray the fact that this level of swearing is new to them. They nod.
Off we go down New Kirkgate, past Trinity House and South Leith Parish Church. We learn about Leith's 12 years as a French protectorate, dissect her flag, find out why the unicorn is Scotland's national animal and question the sanity of anyone who would decree Linksview House an A Listed building. Did you know John the Apostle wrote Revelations high on opium? Or that Mary Magdalene brought the son of Jesus to Leith? Or that Henry VIII ordered the second sacking of Leith on his deathbed? Paul tells you all about all of it. As well as more on the Scottish origins of Rap Battles, cocaine and ketamine availability, the Leith Sikhs and Mary Queen of Scots' wee dog. But it is, as they say, “the way he tells them” that makes this tour so much fun. “John Knox”, we are told at one point “wiz ragin' “ while “Mary of Guise wiz gein' it laldy on the Castle Esplanade”.
There was, in fact, sunshine on Leith all through this Funshine on Leith walkabout. All proceeds from ticket sales go to Invisible Cities, an organisation that looks after the homeless. And the tour acts as a bit of a preview for the Leith Comedy Festival, coming up (second waves permitting) in October.
Whether you are from Leith, up the hill in Edinburgh, or even over the Border, you will get so much fun from these walks.
Funshine on Leith continues until this weekend. Book tickets at https://www.leithcomedyfest.com
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