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Podcasts

Unwinding after a hard day library assisting or daytripping is not always easy, especially when my brain is often whirring with thoughts, feelings or yearnings. For years, I’ve been a devotee of podcasts and for a while I fell asleep to a specially selected selection of them, usually Desert Island Discs, until I turned back to my radio and the tried and tested news and Shipping Forecast combination which does me most nights. Desert Island Discs has been one of my favourite programmes for many years. I like conversation and long-form interviewing, while it isn’t a true conversation as at least one side is prepared, often gives a real insight into one or both parties. Kirsty Young, who presents Desert Island Discs, has an excellent informal style and the guests chosen can vary from politicians, scientists, academics, celebrities and many others besides. Recently featured was the Makar, Jackie Kay, one of my favourite poets, and listening to the podcast was braw, like lying in a hot, soapy bath in how tingly and good it made me feel after. Bruce Springsteen was also on recently, which was excellent. When I was on holiday in Northern Ireland a few months ago, I downloaded loads of podcasts to listen to while I was away and more than a few of them were from the DID archive, including Nicola Sturgeon, Louise Richardson (the vice chancellor of Oxford University who is also a leading academic authority on terrorism), Val McDermid and possibly some others. I occasionally entertain notions of being a writer but there is more than a little bit of me that would love to be gainfully employed presenting Desert Island Discs or as an interviewer, probably on radio and probably not about politics since politicians aren’t always that interesting. I am incurably nosy and would like nothing more than to spend my days having conversations with people and sharing their stories with a wider audience.

Lately, though, I have discovered some other podcasts that I tend to binge-listen to. Two current favourites are The West Wing Weekly and Fitba Hacks. They couldn’t be more different but cater to different bits of my personality, the former for my love of American politics and witty writing, the latter for the less witty but more primal parts I am, as I probably mention here with some frequency, a Hibs fan and I have been interested for a long time in football, particularly the mechanics of it, football management, stadium architecture and the role of the press. The Fitba Hacks podcast is presented by Jonny McFarlane, who is a Rangers fan but we won’t hold that against him as he is even-handed in his interviews with various journalists and media figures from the world of Scottish football, even if his inaugural interview with Keith Jackson of the Daily Record nearly made me want to hurl something at my tablet to shut Mr Jackson up. Particular favourites in the series are the interviews with Simon Pia, a Hibs fan who has written a great deal about the Cabbage but was also, for his sins, an adviser to Johann Lamont when she led the Scottish Labour Party, as well as with Tam McManus, former Hibs striker who has since turned his hand to an insightful blog and radio commentating for Sportsound, Jim Spence who was for many years the Dundonian branch of BBC Scotland, and Jonathan Northcott, who writes for the Sunday Times, who was particularly interesting talking about his dealings with Sir Alex Ferguson.

What Fitba Hacks and The West Wing Weekly have in common is that they go into specifics, that they look into how things have been made. The West Wing Weekly is a weekly discussion of episodes of The West Wing, possibly the finest series of television yet devised, created by Aaron Sorkin and set in a fictional White House. The podcast features Josh Malina, who played Will Bailey in The West Wing, and music producer Hrishi Hirway, discussing each and every episode of the series from the beginning, occasionally with actors from the series or others who can shed some insight into whatever the episode was about. I am currently a few episodes behind the latest episode, in the early days of Season 2. So far, they have already covered one of my favourite episodes, ‘Let Bartlet Be Bartlet’ from Series 1, and I am particularly looking forward to them getting later into Season 2, including the episodes where it is revealed to the public that Bartlet has MS. The West Wing has been a constant favourite for years and years, since I used to tape episodes off Channel 4 and watch them again and again. I’m not the only one; indeed, to link back to Desert Island Discs, David Tennant elected to take as his luxury a DVD player with all seven seasons of The West Wing, another thing that endears me to the former Time Lord right after his choice of the wonderful ‘Over And Done With’ by the Proclaimers as his first track to take to his desert island.

I occasionally listen to other podcasts and I am always open to suggestions. For a while, I was into the archive of RTE Radio 1, from Ireland, with Seascapes, the weekly programme about maritime matters always a particular highlight, if only for its jaunty theme music. I also listened for years to Off The Ball, the Scottish football blether show, but had to swear off Radio Scotland for a while after the Scottish Cup Final as it raised my blood pressure. Fortunately less conducive to blood boiling is the excellent Scotland Outdoors podcast, also produced by Radio Scotland, which features stories and features about walking and nature in Scotland, including a cracking show a few years ago where the presenters Mark Stephen and Ewan McIllwraith cycled the full route of the John Muir Way from Helensburgh to Dunbar over three days. On dark nights like this one, sometimes we can only travel through our ears if not our eyes and the rest of us.

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The view from the McDermid Stand

Yesterday I went to watch Hibs play Raith Rovers in Kirkcaldy. Hibs were mince but hopefully they will raise their game in a significant way for Hearts on Wednesday and more importantly for the league beginning with Dunfermline at home on Saturday. I was in Kirkcaldy for the football, really, but combined it with a few minutes in the art gallery too. The last time I was there was the day I got offered my job so emotionally I was over the place and didn’t really pay much attention to the art. Yesterday I managed to actually see the pictures. I particularly enjoyed the McTaggart paintings. They really cheered me up. Not that I was particularly unhappy, the experience of being myself in an art gallery elsewhere hasn’t been one I have had lately, if I’m honest, and it was good to be out in the world outside the west in a place I like doing something I like.

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I walked to Stark’s Park after that. On previous visits, I had sat lower down the stand though this time I was right at the back. I prefer to be higher up anyway when I watch football but the McDermid Stand has the added bonus of a smashing view across the Forth to East Lothian. I was there early so immediately after eating my pies I spent a while looking across the Forth trying to place what I was seeing. Without a pair of binoculars, I couldn’t be sure and it wasn’t the clearest day but I think I was seeing the Hopetoun Monument, Aberlady Bay, Port Seton and the Lammermuir Hills. I have written here before about the fine views the Fife coastline has towards East Lothian, particularly at Dysart and along the East Neuk, and when the game was boring I chanced a look across the Forth and it made a frustrating game all the better.

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Kirkcaldy is a two-hour bus ride from Glasgow and on the way there and back I read and chilled out. On the bus ride back, I was sitting in front of two Raith Rovers fans who had just been at the game I was at and were rather happier with the result than I was. I couldn’t help hearing what they were blethering on about. One of them had been going to watch Raith for 52 years and had seen some great games in his time. He still went despite being elderly and needing care a lot of the time. It reminded me of an article I had read on the way over to Kirkcaldy by Peter Ross about the dedicated fans that lower-league teams in Scotland have, those who go week-in, week-out, very often with little reward. Even as I was discontented about my own team’s fortunes, there are always people worse off than me. Still, there have been worse trips and it was good to be away.

 

Against the odds

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Last weekend I went for a walk along the Ayrshire Coastal Path from Maidens to Culzean Castle, overlooking the Firth of Clyde. The views are stunning along there towards Arran and the Ailsa Craig and it was life-affirming to be there on quite a few levels. Anyway, for this week’s Weekly Photo Challenge, I wanted to post a photo of what looks like a sculpture near Culzean. I’m not sure what I think of it. It is an unlikely thing in an unlikely place, for sure, though.

Ace after ace

I’ve written here before about my love of maps. The other day I went for a walk along the Ayrshire Coastal Path between Maidens and Culzean. It was a great walk on a beautiful but bitingly cold day. Anyway, the following day I was looking at the Ordnance Survey map for that particular locale. I spent ages visualising the area as my eyes darted across the map, giving language and putting names to my visual impressions and memories. That particular part of Ayrshire isn’t one I know well. Indeed I hadn’t been to Maidens before but I had been to Culzean a couple of times. It helped to solve little mysteries of what that headland was or what that interesting ruined building used to be.

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Culzean Castle
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Swan Pond, Culzean
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Looking towards Maidens. Using an iPhone hence this photo is darker than it actually was.

 

On my bedroom wall is the OS Landranger map for Duns, Dunbar and Eyemouth, covering from North Berwick and the border as well as most of the Lammermuir Hills. Every so often I spend a while looking at it, putting names to places and visualising those dear, familiar locations too. It also springs ideas of places to get to next time I’m in the east. One that’s percolating in my mind is the waterfall at Bilsdean, not far from Dunglass Collegiate Church, which I visited just before Christmas. Bilsdean is a quietly lovely, twinkly, dingly dell sort of place, usually deserted despite its beauty and being within 300 yards of the A1. It’s also not so many miles from a road I often follow on the map, the moor road from Coldingham that ends up high on the cliffs over Pease Bay with that view to Torness, the Bass Rock, the May and Fife beyond. I was just thinking about it the other day since the road from Culzean to Dunure is very similar with its dramatic views towards Arran and the Ailsa Craig. Sometimes it’s good to think back to those places you’ve been and like in Norman MacCaig’s poem ‘Two men at once’, cut:

the pack of memories

and [turn] up ace after ace after ace’.

 

The front of the bus

I went to primary school in Edinburgh. When we went out and about in the city, we invariably took the bus, more often than not a double-decker bus in colours of deepest maroon operated by Lothian Buses. I always liked to sit on the top deck of the bus and normally at the front, not just to see the view to wherever we were going but also to look down the periscope. In those days before CCTV was widespread on public transport, the driver could look up to a mirror strategically located at the front of the top deck to see if anyone was causing bother. I liked to look down and see what was happening even if it wasn’t that exciting: usually it was the top of the driver’s head, invariably flecked with grey if it wasn’t bald. Often that was more exciting, though, than what was passing the windows.

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Sexy Lothian Bus in action shot. Taken by the Water of Leith, in Leith, naturally enough

To this day, if I am on a double-decker bus, I tend to opt for the front of the top deck. I am a fan of what Patrick Geddes called the ‘synoptic view’, and the best all-encompassing views you tend to get are on high. When you can’t go up a hill or in a hot-air balloon or whatever, then a bus just has to do. If I can’t get the front, I usually try for the first seat behind the stairs, which also tends to have more generous leg room so it is possible both to see what’s going on and do so without one’s knees grazing one’s chin.

Edinburgh is a great city to explore by bus. It has an excellent and widespread bus network and not all of the buses are maroon, thankfully. I have seen some strange sights from its buses, though, including flat dwellers sunbathing on the ledges outside their residences in high summer, two floors up. I’m an advocate of ‘whatever works’ as a life strategy but there are limits. I seem to remember that was in Tollcross, near the Cameo cinema.

Glasgow is also a fine place to explore by bus. I don’t know if I have written here before about the 90 bus, which goes absolutely everywhere, or at least from Braehead to Partick, a couple of miles as the crow flies but via Govan, Battlefield, Rutherglen, Parkhead, Springburn and Maryhill. I covered part of its route on the road to the Scottish Cup, just before Hibs went on to win it last May – post here. The 3, which stops about 200 yards from here, covers a similarly epic route, from Govan to Drumchapel via Cardonald, Crookston, Pollok, Pollokshaws, Shawlands, the city centre, Partick and Scotstoun, though I have noticed that it is being served increasingly by double-decker buses. Happy days.

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Local bus stop

Sadly a lot of the buses I use are single-decker buses, low and unassuming, not to mention without much of a decent view. My last, decent double-decker journey was just after the New Year, down from Edinburgh to Prestongrange, a journey covered many times in my life en route to work there. Like so many times before, I stepped to the front of the bus on the way back just in time to get that view across Morrison’s Haven towards Fife and Edinburgh just as the sun began to set, just another perk of being up high.

Incidentally, this post was inspired by an article in the Edinburgh Evening News, entitled ‘10 Things Everyone Who Grew Up In Edinburgh Will Remember‘. I also remember going to the UCI Cinema and for a pic ‘n’ mix at Woolies, though in Musselburgh.

A moment

I started out to write something a bit longer just now and ended up writing a little bit about the sun setting out of my window:

The sun’s setting just now. The tree’s branches and prickles are just a silhouette as is the telly aerial on the roof on the next street, the skylights glinting slightly. The clouds are an angry scoring out of grey, over only a small part of the sky that is a lighter, almost white blue by the roof but getting steadily darker as I tilt my head slightly towards the top of the tree, a darker blue but still with enough light to make a difference. Even in the few moments it’s taken to type this, the clouds have banded together and the branches have stilled slightly. A moment in time is all it takes.

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Rubbish attempt to capture the scene with my iPhone

Shadow

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Shadows fall. This particular shadow is my own, taken on a freezing November afternoon on the Prom in Dunbar. It was about 3pm so in the midst of the golden hour as the light rapidly faded. I think this particular silhouette makes me look like the Stig from Top Gear, with the folded arms and that.

 

Out here in the fields

My first commute was roughly 15 minutes on foot from where I lived in Ashfield in Dunbar to the museum I worked in on the High Street. Since then, my commutes have changed drastically. By the time I left the Birthplace, I merely had to walk along the street to work. One of my commutes, which I did for just shy of a year, took an hour and a half and two trains plus crossing Glasgow city centre in rush hour morning and night. Thankfully I don’t do that any more. My shiny new commute is a mere 15 minute walk followed by a 20 minute bus ride. Far more bearable. There are quite a few ways I can get from here to Renfrew and I may utilise more than one of them at various points but the simplest route seems to be a 26 bus which stops right outside the door of my new work. Braw.

Planning my new commute took about half an hour of utterly joyful working through timetables and Traveline Scotland. I love planning journeys, even to work, and twice this week already I have been called upon to advise others on their respective rovings, despite the widespread prevalence of Google on people’s phones. It is just easier to contact me, apparently, plus I genuinely love working out routes to places. I think it comes out of my love of maps and my autistic liking for order, lists and structures.

What took more time though was planning my new job’s ‘theme’, by which I mean the song I listen to first on the way to work. I wrote last year about listening to ‘Going Home’, the theme of the film Local Hero, which I will continue to do, but the first song is always a statement of intent. For my old jobs, I had the both equally good ‘Tillidh Mi’ in the version by Manran and ‘Spinning Around In The Air’ by the Proclaimers. Contenders for the new gig were ‘Dreams’ by the Cranberries, ‘Path to Home’ by Skerryvore, ‘Sky Takes The Soul’ by the Proclaimers and ‘Alive’ by Skipinnish, though the winner, after a week or so’s consideration, was ‘Baba O’Riley’ by the Who. The rest of the playlist will depend on the day but ‘Baba O’Riley’ will go down a treat in helping to wake me up in the morning since it is rousing and loud, which tends to be what I need first thing.

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Fields, near East Linton

The new commute is mostly urban and will pass close to Braehead and the Renfrew Ferry, affording a glimpse of the Clyde along the way. I have had varied commutes over the time. Both of the old ones were urban though my favourite was the one between Dunbar and Haddington, which was rural and covered some of the most beautiful country in Scotland, passing standing stones, hill forts, rivers and even the Bass Rock in its 12 miles or so. The new one will involve a walk across a flyover taking me above the M8 in full flow and the railway. Much less scenic, I would concede, but there are compensations. I have the considerable pleasure to actually like my job and the place I do it in. I like living in Glasgow and I can escape to the countryside with relative ease. Plus I have good music to accompany my rovings not to mention good books to read and to pass on, which is after all the name of my game.

Streets of Glasgow

I wrote here recently about my wish this year to write a day tripping book. Then life intervened. I have realised that working full-time and trying to do a degree and all that stuff will make committing time to writing anything worthwhile very, very difficult. So, it’s been ditched, for now. Instead I am going to work on something a little different but can be incorporated into life fairly easily. Plus it actually seems a better fit for me than the day trip book. First it needs some explanation.

A few years ago I became interested in psychogeography, a French Situationist concept come up with to reduce alienation in cities and to see them in a different way. Will Self wrote a column in the Independent about it for a while, usually involving a psychogeographical ramble or two, like his walk from London to New York, or at least from his hoose to Heathrow then JFK Airport into the centre of Manhattan. I read a little about it and ended up spending quite a few day trips in Edinburgh embarking on derives, walks without an end point in mind until some point along the way, turning this way and that on city streets on a whim. It was how I found quite a few interesting spots in and around the capital, some of which have appeared on this blog.

Walking around the New Town in Edinburgh recently I came up with this idea called the Streets of Glasgow. I have written here before about how I don’t know Glasgow as well as I do Edinburgh despite having lived here for three years. Plus my new job is not actually in Glasgow. Near it, certainly, but it is outside Glasgow nevertheless, meaning I will be spending less time in this city. The Streets of Glasgow interests me as an idea, walking from end-to-end on some of Glasgow’s great streets, some of which go on for miles. As I walked up St. Vincent Street in the capital, I came up with a few to start with, including Govan Road, Paisley Road West, Argyle Street, Sauchiehall Street and quite a few others. The first two are within walking distance of the house and Govan Road is certainly one I have been interested in doing for a while, owing to the interesting buildings en route, particularly around Film City.

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Paisley Road West
What I propose to do is to walk from one end of a street to another, mostly in a single day, and write about what I see, hear and otherwise experience. A lot of places in Glasgow I see from buses or trains but there is no substitute for putting one foot before another and getting out there. An essay might appear here occasionally but I don’t propose to be so formal about it, saying I will do one a month. It just strikes me as an interesting exercise, to see more of the city, to do some writing and not to be under pressure doing it. Watch this space…

 

Kirkcaldy

Friday day trips are strange creatures. I am usually working until 8 the night before and as a consequence my timings are all over the place. I invariably like a lie in and thus don’t end up going terribly far. Sometimes I wake up about 8 and think about going far and wide but four hours later I am still in bed and not moving any time soon. There are other times when I just want to go somewhere and I can pull my carcass out of bed early enough to get somewhere a wee bit further from Glasgow. A few Fridays ago, I was up early and thought about St. Andrews or somewhere like that but of course I wasn’t out of bed until about 10. I had a good idea for somewhere to go, however.

My favourite art gallery in Scotland is not Kelvingrove or the National or even Portrait, fine places though they are. Rather it’s the one in Kirkcaldy, recently refurbished to include an expanded museum, cafe and central library but with the art gallery bit delightfully unchanged in style and contents. Kirkcaldy has a fine collection of 19th and 20th century Scottish art, from William McTaggart through the Glasgow Boys and the Scottish Colourists, all favourites of mine and all in the one place. I visit at least three or four times a year, usually as a result of a notion like I had a couple of weeks ago just to be there. This particular visit, though, was different as just before I went in, I received some happy news which meant that I was looking at the art through a haze of tears and general heightened emotion.

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Like in many things, I have a routine when I visit Kirkcaldy. I start in the first room, currently containing a John Bellany amongst others, then work through each room in turn, finishing at the far end where the McTaggarts are then work my way back through each one again, invariably stopping for a seat and a ponder once or twice along the way. Usually I am entirely alone but there were a couple of folk dotting around plus the normal loud-footed attendants clomping through at regular intervals to make sure we weren’t nicking anything. Particular favourites in the second room were two of Kellie Castle, near Pittenweem, by John Henry Lorimer, showing the castle and its surrounds with spring flowers and shadowy light. They must have been pulled from the museum stores recently as I only became aware of them recently and every time I go, I think I must get to Kellie Castle, even while it is a bastard to get to by public transport. Of the Scottish Colourists, I was drawn as usual to the Iona paintings by Peploe and Cadell, the best looking towards Ben More and Mull. Again, another enticement to visit a place far-off. And the McTaggart has a few crackers, not least the one of a glen near Roslin and the just plain braw painting of a wave crashing to shore on a grey day. I also paid particular attention to two quite esoteric sculptures by Martin Rayner, whose brother I used to work with, strangely enough. I thought a little about him and tried to work out the symbolism of these richly allegorical works.

My brain was all over the place this time, looking at the art with heightened affection while trying not to dance about the place with happiness. I must have looked a right mess.

Before I left, I made sure I got to the temporary exhibition about the Forth Bridges, showing art and objects relating to the best bridge on the planet and the road one next to it. The new Queensferry Crossing will open in September so there was a bit about that. The art was by Kate Downie and was rather fine with drawings, etchings and paintings depicting the bridges, my favourites charcoal drawings of the crosses and angles of the Rail Bridge. For the person that will invariably ask me when it’s on rather than looking it up on Google or the Kirkcaldy Galleries website, the exhibition finishes on 25th February.

Before I left, I walked down to the waterfront. Kirkcaldy has a big road right next to the Forth but I crossed over it all the same and looked across in the twilight to Edinburgh and East Lothian, sorting my fix of the sea and waves for a bit. Quite a few places in Scotland ruin their rivers by having big, nasty roads right next to them (I’m looking at you, Dundee, for starters) but sometimes you just need to shut out what’s around you and just look out. I did the same when I was in Dundee, strangely enough, a couple of weeks before and it was strangely quite joyful. This time, I stood a while then headed back to the bus, plugging in some music and reading my way back to Glasgow, another Friday well spent.

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