I REALISE that unless you have your own pint glass behind the bar in the Port of Leith and a tab in Pierino’s chippy you can’t really call yourself a Leither. But I have lived in the Republic for seven years, I have sung Sunshine On Leith in that fine bar (several times) and I know Pierino’s number off by heart, so I feel I may claim my right to speak.
The news that Leith is being earmarked to become some kind of bosom of bohemianism in the city is truly thrilling. It’s not just that the five-year blueprint, which has been given backing from Edinburgh City Council, imagines new arts centres and pop up galleries and studio spaces filling in the area’s boarded up shops and gap sites like veneers in the gappiest of grins, pleases me. What delights me even more is that the research which preceded this plan found that nearly 1,200 artists and organisations are already based in Leith. I didn’t really need research to tell me this. The beard quotient might not be quite at Shoreditch levels but it’s getting there. And I say bring it on. Hipsters riding fixies and sporting extravagant facial hair are to be welcomed. They will heal the wounds of the “traumatic” tramworks, not by getting the roads put back together, but by giving us a laugh with their fashion forward frolicking. Leith – you rock.
Ageism should be old news, not helped by technology
HAS anyone ever really asked someone the question, “how old do you think I am?” OK, apart from when you’re drunk on Blue Bols (had one) and trying to blag your way into a pub despite being 15 with the most amateurish forged passport ever seen. When I say forged, I mean the horizontal line of the four as in 74, as in 1974, has been scratched out with the compass in your pencil case to add three precious years.
Underage antics aside, surely, like “does my bum look big in this?” we all know that asking someone else to guess how old we are is a question that should never need to be answered. Younger than they really are and although the questioner might be pleased you will feel like a heel for playing into stereotypical societal attitudes about ageing. Add on a few years and potentially you could get a fat lip. It’s a minefield.
So what was Microsoft’s thinking when it unleashed How Old Do I Look on the world? A website that allows you to submit a photograph – or use one that you’ve found online – it will then supply the age and gender. Yes, of course, I’ve done it. Forty-five. And although that’s five years beyond my real age, what with my 20-month-old son induced eye bags and permanent cold, actually that felt about right.
The site works by using “state-of-the-art, cloud-based algorithms” which recognise human faces by analysing 27 predetermined facial landmarks. Microsoft engineers who created it said interest in the app had been much higher than they’d expected with more than 35,000 users within a few hours of their sharing it. There were 15,000 tweets with the hashtag #HowOldRobot within a day of its launch.
The only question I have is this: what is wrong with us?
The chat is that those who’ve been pegged as younger will be delighted (Nicola Sturgeon, a youthful 36 rather than her true age of 44, whereas poor Jim Murphy came out as 65, rather than his true age of 47) while those, including yours truly, saddled with a few extra years will be devastated.
Only that’s not right, is it? In fact, we should all be hacked off. The app may have started as a test site, a way of trying out Microsoft’s new face detection software, but since ageing is the last great taboo (well, death really but ageing is part of that because it’s the signal that death is on its way – sorry to be morbid, but it’s true) it’s much more sinister than that. It plays on our shonky self-esteem and evergreen stereotypes about how getting older is pretty much the worst thing that can happen to us. And it can be pretty bad if you end up living in poverty and social isolation as millions of older people do.
But it needn’t be this way.
So here is my plea. Resist the temptation to upload a photograph to this web-based waste of time and instead spend some quality time with your own face. Touch it, examine it, enjoy it – every crinkle, freckle and line is uniquely yours no matter what age you are. As a character in June Arnold’s novel, Sister Gin, says: “My darling’s face has been walked on by life.” She means it as a compliment.
Going off the rails
THERE is an informal rule that governs this column – no mention of the trams or the train to Glasgow. But I’ve squeaked one in so I might as well go for the other. I got the train to Glasgow last week. It was the first time in a while. It cost me nearly £25 quid. If you do your shopping in Lidl – as I often do – then you’ll know that’s not far off a week’s shop. The journey was fine and I got a seat so I’m not moaning. The week before I’d gone to London and my ticket was nearly £150. The only reason I mention it is that I then read that Network Rail bosses spent
£1.3 million on UK flights in the last year because it was cheaper than taking the train. Seriously.