THE clunk of balls gently blootered by croquet mallets is normally as rowdy as it gets at Edinburgh's Lauriston Castle.
But this homely haven by the sea, with its pond, wandering paths and peaceful Japanese garden, has been threatened by the prospect of swanky soirees.
The city's Lord Provost, Donald Wilson, seems rather fond of these and fancied the castle for a regular venue in which to entertain dignitaries. This followed revelations that the council spent £250 to have his kilt loosened, leading to accusations that he'd put on weight at his many "engagements".
That is an outrageous charge and, in the absence of concrete evidence, we are happy to support it. But it is the threat of parties that bothers us more.
Lauriston and I have previous. I love the place. Every spring, I go to see the daffodils and, at other times throughout the year, I wander blithely through its leafy demesne, fetching up at last in the Japanese friendship garden where I sit and meditate for anything up to 15 seconds.
At first, I didn't take to this garden — gifted by the prefecture of Kyoto, ken? — as it took a hectare of trees and wilder space from the estate. I was, too, unsure of the gravel and formality, but its symmetries and undulations have grown on me and it's now probably my favourite part of the grounds.
Though Lauriston is well inside the city boundary, somebody keeps a field of coos nearby which, prompted by mystic thoughts in the Japanese garden, reminds me of Scotland's most notable contribution to Zen poetry, usually attributed to the venerable monk McGonagall: "On yonder hill/There stood a coo/It's no there noo/It must have shifted."
Though called a castle, we're not talking much in the way of crenellation here. Something probably more military was obliterated by yon Earl of Hertford in 1544, but it was succeeded by a late 16th century tower house and a 19th century extension in the Jacobean style.
If that sounds musty and pompous, the beauty of the building lies in its sumptuous, warm and cosy interior. The original tower house was built or rebuilt by Sir Archibald Napier of Merchiston, whose son John later inflicted logarithms on schoolchildren.
After passing through the hands of various economists, barons and bankers, Lauriston became, in 1902, the property of the lovely Reids. William Robert Reid ran a successful cabinetmaking business, and he and his wife Margaret modernised the joint with plumbing and electricity. They also filled it with fine furnishings and art.
Not snooty in the least, they also collected popular mosaics and ornaments of the day, which are now seen as beautiful and worthy. The Reids treated their staff well and didn't stand on ceremony, with Margaret wandering the grounds in her cardie, reading the popular prints.
Childless, they left their home to Scotland on condition that it be preserved unchanged. Hence the warm, Edwardian, Orient Expressy, velvety, domestic delight of its womb-like interior.
Ever since Mrs Reid's death in 1926, the City of Edinburgh has administered the house. Hence the interest of Lord Provost Wilson. The castle is often described as one of Edinburgh's best-kept secrets and, aside from writing about it in a widely read newspaper, I'd like to keep it that way.
But Councillor Wilson wanted the swanky set to stravaig aboot its handsome hectares, clinking champagne glasses and filling their mooths with wee sausage rolls.
Fortunately, the plan was vetoed amidst concerns at a projected £237,000 overspend by the Lord Provost's office. Part of this included the alteration to his kilt, which Mr Wilson has since repaid, insisting he'd always intended so doing.
The gregarious civic leader allegedly has a gargantuan 900 functions in his diary for— it says here — one year, which works out at three a day, which can't be right. But, whatever the number, Donald is certainly fond of a function. His Christmas party had a budget of five grand, and critics say his office's spending is "out of control".
I don't really care about that, as long as he keeps his whooping fops far from the sanctuary sitting tranquilly on the banks of the Firth of Forth.
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