I sit writing this in the cafe that is professed to have served and sheltered JK Rowling as she wrote the first Harry Potter book in Edinburgh’s Old Town. I’m surprised, for The Elephant House is opposite Moore’s Modern Methods, or where this printing company used to be. I worked there for six months in 1965, aged 19. I was a printer’s devil which involved me gathering print jobs, proofs and running hither and thither, and then writing it all down in a big ledger.
This was Victorian Edinburgh. The printworks below on the Cowgate, and a road that ran under George IV Bridge where the offices were. My (then) father-in-law would drop me off in his grey, cream and slight green Hillman Minx car in the Cowgate on his way to his bank on Easter Road. He felt obliged to do this, else there was a chance I might not make it into work that day.
— John Bird (@johnbirdswords) February 15, 2018
Just over 30 years later, JK was composing stories that probably have echoed around the world, drawn more young people into reading than anyone else, and just opposite where I laboured. Each ledger entry had to be done in a dipping-in-ink pen and I often blodged it, producing tortuous penmanship. I was often called to the office above to be remonstrated with for my lack of craftsmanship.
Sympathy and all of that crude ‘supposed’ support does nothing other than delay a real objective: the dismantling of poverty. It is mawkish tokenism, nothing more
Just next to where Moore’s Modern Methods office had existed is the National Library of Scotland, and earlier I had gone to an exhibition there. It was on the novels of Muriel Spark who I have read over the years and loved. Her famous novel, Edinburgh-based, for she was a daughter of the place, is called The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. I was always pleased to tell all who wished to listen that my wife of the time had attended the school it was based on, James Gillespie’s; not Dizzy Gillespie, the US jazz musician, but a snuff tycoon (and philanthropist) of that name.
Like all writers, one would like to gain the fame and spread the fortunes that go with Harry Potter’s success. But would you really like to have to put up with all of that wealth, responsibility, attention and fans, I ask you? What a dent in the world you could make with a few billion. On reflection, I could put up with all of that, so long as it did not turn me into a prick. Or a bigger prick than I am already.