Having a giraffe in Edinburgh


June 16, 2010 by jessperriam

Jon Jo tames the tweed. Edinburgh, June 2010

“I had no names, no contacts, yet I had the idle wanderer’s distinct confidence that having arrived here I was available for some sort of enlightenment: that I would meet the right people; that I would be fine. I had no idea at that early stage how any of this was going to happen, for I didn’t have a friend in the whole country.” – Paul Theroux, Dark Star Safari

When the low cost flight from London touched down in Edinburgh, I felt a sense of calm. Mentally, I was saying ‘Welcome home.”

Edinburgh’s been a place that’s on my to-see list for a long while. There’s no good reason why – it’s been described as broody, introspective and yet friendly and able to surprise you.

That was yet to come – but first?

Figuring out how to get to the hostel from the airport was the first hassle. Let’s just say one thing I’ve noticed with hostel booking websites is that they never give clear directions. There’s always a bus or a train from the airport involved but rarely do the instructions gain more clarity when it hits the walking phase. Not good when you’re wearing a backpack and a front pack (remind me to mail some stuff home!) in a completely unfamiliar city.

I was just buying my bus ticket when a nervous voice piped up at the other cashier.

“Um… excuse me, but do you know where the best stop for Gilmore Place is?”

I was guessing there were only so many places a young, nervous traveller could stay in a Tollcross street slightly off the tourist maps.

“What hostel are you staying at?” I asked, “Perhaps we should get lost together.”

“Uh… The Art House Hostel,” he volunteered.

The cashiers looked at each other in disbelief as we realised we were staying in the same tiny hostel.

Martyn studies film in London. He came to Edinburgh to spend two weeks at the film festival.

Me? I was in Edinburgh for no good reason.

After asking the oracle that is the iPhone for swift and safe guidance in the walking part, we made it to an unassuming townhouse. A short Taiwanese Scottish man answered the door.

“Come in, come in,” he said hesitantly, “JonJo isn’t in at the moment, he’s at an Art Show but I’m going to go in a little bit.”

“I’ll come with,” I said. As if I had anything better to do. Martyn just nodded and mumbled something to say he was in too.

So we went to the Edinburgh College of Art and took in the Degree Show. There were some seriously amazing pieces from some talented up and coming Scottish artists (such as Justin Wisniewski – I bought one of this etchings today)

Ricky came up to us and said he found JonJo somewhere in the many, many galleries. He was standing at an installation that involved an artist smashing a shopfront window. Sometimes you hear JonJo before you see him, he has a wicked cackle when he finds something especially hilarious. But if he’s not laughing at his own brilliant jokes and philosophies, you can spot him a mile off. His unofficial uniform is the Scottish get up. He dubs himself the Tweed Tamer. He goes at a mile a minute and has incredible energy, enthusiasm and verve for life, as well as all things Scottish.

“It’s too hot in here.” JonJo complained in the Chinese restaurant we retired to.

“I’m a highlander, I dunnae like it to be hot, I need some air,” as if we didn’t already know he felt hot and stuffy.

From there we further retired to the Cloisters Pub. “The best pub in Edinburgh!” he said. “No televisions, no football!”

The Art House isn’t your normal hostel. Let’s just say it’s far more intimate than the hostel I’m sitting in right now in London. It only sleeps 18 people, it’s been open for six weeks so there’s only around about eight people you’ll meet at any one time. The fact that it’s called the Art House means that it attracts precisely that type of traveller, you know those creative types. There aren’t really any rules, any lockers, any locked doors with swipe cards. It’s that relaxed.

JonJo is a firm believer in hanging out with those in the hostel. His motto in travel is: Don’t just visit, live it!

So part of living it was shout one another rounds of beer at the pub. It was a delightfully drunk evening. “Some people just don’t get the Art House, they want rules and boundaries. But I just want everyone to have a giraffe.”

JonJo received a few blank looks about that one.

“A giraffe… a laugh.”

Oh. Cockney rhyming slang. There was lots of giraffing to be had when JonJo was around.

To be continued…


3 thoughts on “Having a giraffe in Edinburgh

  1. Omg, I am so grateful for this! I stayed in the Art House for a little less than a week during the summer of 2010 as well, and reading this took me right back. Your description of JonJo is spot on… he took my boyfriend and I to Cloister’s too! It’s there that he taught us how to “properly” drink scotch. I still use his technique today. Hahah reading this makes me want to go back so badly. Believe me, your experience at the Art House will stick with you! 🙂

    • jessperriam says:

      Hi Jazmine! Thanks for stumbling upon my blog. I loved staying at the Art House. I think I dipped in and out of Edinburgh three times while backpacking in Summer 2010. JonJo is undoubtedly a character. There’s never a dull moment while he’s about.

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