Wallace and Gromit

Recently it was announced that the actor Peter Sallis had died at the age of 96. He played Norman Clegg on the long-running pish Sunday night ‘comedy’ Last of the Summer Wine, but to many of us he is better known as the voice of Wallace, the inventor and cheese fanatic from Wallace and Gromit. For those poor souls who have never encountered Wallace and Gromit before, and you truly haven’t lived, Wallace and Gromit is a series of animations involving a madcap inventor and his dug who is much, much smarter than him, produced in clay by Aardman Animations and created by Nick Park. It is meant for children, really, but since I grew up with it, I suppose I can justify keeping an interest. I identify more with Gromit than Wallace, since he is silent and a rolled eye can say so, so much, but there are so many great Wallace lines. One of them appears on the mug I drink out of and it pretty much sums up my outlook on life, taken from A Grand Day Out, when they go to the moon on a Bank Holiday to look for cheese:

‘It’s like no cheese I’ve ever tasted’.

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My Wallace and Gromit mug next to my alternative mug bearing the visage of Sir David Gray

I haven’t watched Wallace and Gromit in a few years. The last time was watching A Matter Of Loaf and Death, including one of those fabulously cheesy names, Piella Bakewell. But my most recent W&G experience was at Blackpool Pleasure Beach about three summers ago. It was a birthday present. I had never been to a theme park in my life and there I was with my family at Blackpool Pleasure Beach. I went on my first rollercoaster at the age of 25. But a major highlight was going to the Wallace and Gromit ride, where you sit in a slipper and get guided around a medley of scenes and lines from the various W&G films. Quite seriously, a life highlight. Even more so was the adjoining gift shop where I spent sixty British pounds on T-shirts, keyrings and plush toys. I still wear my grey T-shirt bearing the red glove worn by the Penguin on the Wrong Trousers from time to time. Anyway, a souvenir of the day was the photo I got took with Gromit. It is one of the few photos of me in my house; one of the others is me with the Scottish Cup. We actually waited until the galoot in the Wallace suit went for a fag break before pouncing to get a photo with Gromit. It’s still on the mantelpiece, pride of place.

I’ve liked Wallace and Gromit since I was a kid. I’m autistic and having a fidget toy has always been important for keeping pace with the sensory overload that is life as I know it. When I was a kid, I used to have keyrings mainly but for a while it was a little figurine of Wallace. I lost it, though. We used to walk our dog each night across Winterfield Park in Dunbar, in all weathers and all year, even in the dark with a torch. One of those dark, dark nights, I lost Wallace. The day after I carefully combed the park though it was nowhere to be seen. Somehow when I went back to school, one of my teachers produced another one. It wasn’t the same somehow but the thought was there.

A few years ago, I had a job I didn’t like. Everyone has one on their CV. It was not long after I had been to Blackpool Pleasure Beach and on my desk was not only a photo of me with Gromit but also a Gromit soft toy. It kept me in touch with my childhood side and looking to Gromit from time to time reminded me of happier times.

When I heard about Peter Sallis’s death, it reminded me of the place Wallace and Gromit has had in my life. Off-the-wall humour, quirky and detail-orientated, the world is the richer for it. As it was for the life of Peter Sallis.

 

 

20 years on from the Philosopher’s Stone

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British Library, home to a Harry Potter exhibition later in the year
Today marks the 20th anniversary of the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the first of the Harry Potter books that came to utterly change children’s literature and send countless folk in search of Platform 9 3/4 and the Hogwarts Express. It was only after the third one came out that I ended up getting into them but every one after that saw me eagerly seek out a copy on publication day. Indeed when Deathly Hallows came out I spent that day with the book in one hand and looking up occasionally to talk to museum visitors. I re-read them at least once a year, usually digitally, and while the Harry Potter universe is one of my lesser interests, I could probably verge on the obsessive if I was of a mind to. I am reading them again at the moment but only because I can’t face anything new right now the book I read over lunchtime today notwithstanding.

It’s hard to put into words just why I like Harry Potter. I don’t watch the films all that often – they’re fine but honestly I prefer the books – so it isn’t visual. It is the world, the details that keep me interested, that every dimension of the world is perfectly realised on the page. I don’t particularly want to live there or anything. The real world is often preferable, though we could do with a Harry type to slay some of the Voldemort-esque politicians about just now. It is an escape for a moment, a human world but just a little bit extra special.

I very frequently quote one of the Five Laws of Library Science, devised by S.R. Ranganathan in 1931, namely every person their book. We should never be snobbish about what people read, as long as they read. Reading is vital for any sort of success in life. It connects us with people in all sorts of ways. It’s why I never look down my nose at library users who borrow Mills and Boons or Fifty Shades of Grey or biographies by YouTubers or reality stars. As long as people read, then I’m happy. I know there are folk who look down at Harry Potter and to be honest I would quote back to them Ranganathan. Every person their book. I’m lucky I have many books. I’ve written about some of them here. I wouldn’t take the Harry Potter series to a desert island with me. But reading them has given me a great deal of pleasure and enjoyment for most of my life, since I was about 10 in fact, as Harry was when he learned he was a wizard and headed for Hogwarts. Reading truly is magic.

 

Streets of Glasgow: Cathcart Road


For a few minutes, I wasn’t sure if I was actually on Cathcart Road. I had walked from the city centre through the Gorbals to where I thought Cathcart Road started, by the Brazen Head pub, but it was only when I checked Google Maps and a nearby bus stop that I was certain I was in the right place. The first Cathcart Road sign didn’t appear until I had crossed the motorway, well into the walk. This walk was the first of the Streets of Glasgow series to brave the south side of the city, a grievous oversight since I actually live south of the Clyde, and Cathcart Road was picked owing to its proximity to the city centre but also because it crosses a fair bit of the south side in its 2-mile stretch. I hoped it would be interesting and so it proved pretty much immediately as I came up to the ruined Caledonia Road Church, which had been part of a project called Stalled Spaces during the Commonwealth Games in 2014 and still had signs of development behind a fence. The frontage is stunning, an Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson design with Greek and Italian touches. In all the time I’ve lived in Glasgow, I never stop being surprised by the beautiful buildings I encounter in all parts of the city. The Gorbals and Govanhill, where I would be in a few minutes, are both places with more than their fair share of problems though they also have a fair few cracking buildings.

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Caledonia Road Church
Across the road was the head office of First Glasgow, the city’s main bus operator. First aren’t the best though they are better in Glasgow than they used to be in the east coast. It says it all, though, that the two cars nearest the entrance were both Jaguars. Perhaps they are washed just along the road in a car wash dubbed World’s No. 1, which made me wonder how these things can possibly be measured objectively.

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Car wash
Govanhill is one of the most ethnically diverse places in Scotland and it very swiftly showed as I crossed the motorway in the great variety of people around me from all parts of the world. The shops also gave a clue, with considerable culinary choice, including at least two that served up both sweets and kebabs, an odd mix but one I could understand given that some Muslims have very sweet teeth. The displays in the clothes shops around Allison Street are incredibly vivid and colourful and I enjoyed just looking around me on this part of the walk. Having said that, Govanhill also is a place many people don’t feel comfortable lingering in. I walked at a steady pace, interested in my surroundings as ever but hastening on nevertheless.

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Diversity of shops in Govanhill
When I reached Albert Road, there was a noticeable difference, as if that was where Govanhill stopped and Crosshill began. The buildings even changed colour, the older red sandstone tenements giving way for a bit to more modern grey and white clad houses. The railway bridge above Crosshill Station was more traditional, though, the product of good old Victorian engineering in Motherwell. I soon came to Cathkin Park, a place I know well, once the home of Third Lanark, now a park with terracing being slowly taken into nature. I paused there only to take a photo – it is on Cathcart Road, after all – but returned a bit later to pause, ponder and scribble notes from this walk.

Cathrin Park
A few minutes later, I came to the junction with Prospecthill Road and thus into Mount Florida, the street red sandstone like Govanhill but a bit more affluent and posh Western, including the peculiar juxtaposition of a trendy chip shop with a cheesy name like Hooked. Also there was a gift shop which had window displays marking that Father’s Day was coming that Sunday, including the immortal legend, ‘My Paw Is Pure Braw’. Now, I don’t know if anyone in Scotland, let alone this city, outside of The Broons, refers to their faither as Paw but I know that referring to something as ‘pure’ is a Weegie expression while ‘braw’ is an east coast word, with most usages in Glasgow probably by me. It’s a linguistic and dialectical mishmash but it’s a nice one so we’ll let it slide this time.

I forgot about the cheesy pun on the other window
Before the walk finished, I had two more good buildings to look over. One was Mount Florida Primary School, an old fashioned Victorian schoolhouse in red sandstone like so many others in both Glasgow and Edinburgh, while the other was the Clockwork Beer Company, which I am told is a fine drinking establishment, with a cupola and elegant decoration on the gable in the centre. As I reached Holmlea Road, still short of Cathcart but the end of its Road, I thought on how I had enjoyed my walk a lot, the longest of these walks so far but also the most diverse in a lot of ways, taking me through at least four distinct parts of the city in just shy of an hour. There were a few ideas of places to read more about, like the Caledonia Road Church, but in the meantime I backtracked to Cathkin, leaving the city street behind for a few minutes for the eerie still of the park.

Suggestion box

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All many writers want is to be read and I am no exception. Writing is such a crucial part of who I am that sometimes I want to share what I write or what I am thinking about with people. Lately I have been able to share what I’ve written with an even larger audience, particularly the recent posts on the Glasgow Women’s Library and my Hibs historical walk. Recently, I have had two suggestions for blog post ideas, which unfortunately probably won’t fill a full blog post each but blended together in an unlikely way might work. They are the sparsity of public toilets and the design of carpets in Glasgow public libraries.

The first one is personal for me since I have IBS – as written about last year in IBS, my gut and travelling – and finding a toilet is sometimes a matter of urgency for me. I know, however, that not all public toilets are that nice or indeed that common around, particularly in big cities. I was talking to one of my colleagues about this and she has a mental map of where toilets are in Glasgow city centre, based on past experience, which I think is eminently sensible. A lot of public toilets have disappeared due to spending cuts in local councils and so finding one tends to involve being creative or taking advantage of where one happens to be to make use. It shouldn’t have to be the case but it is an act essential to success, nay life itself, as verily you have to go when you have to go.

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Believe it or not, this is the view from an urinal, at the Shard in London
The second suggestion is sort-of linked as one place that does have a public toilet is the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) in Glasgow city centre. GOMA was once the Stirling’s Library and it houses a branch library now but I don’t think its carpet is that picturesque. Some of Glasgow’s libraries have incredible carpets, some based on locality like Elder Park and the Glasgow Women’s Library, others are just plain psychedelic. I worked for Glasgow Libraries for two years and I came to know some of the best ones, like Pollokshields, Cardonald and the Mitchell Library. Sadly I don’t have pictures of these but I believe the Mitchell Library’s carpets even have a Facebook fan page. When I left Langside Library, I was presented with a tote bag bearing the carpet’s design, which was greatly appreciated since I always have a use for a tote bag and also that my erstwhile colleagues listened some of the time while I blethered on. Libraries are places with personality, of those within them as well as of the place itself. I have had the great pleasure to work in some old ones, some not so old, and each has a character. It just takes spending the time.

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Elder Park Library
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Glasgow Women’s Library
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Langside Library tote bag. Limited edition
The blog is 300 posts old or 22 months in actual time. Some of the posts have been good, some all right, others mince. I like to write the longform essays the best and there have been a few crackers this year so far, particularly from the Streets of Glasgow series but also Real men and Hibstory. I have also been trying to branch out and I will be sending out a couple of pieces for competitions in the coming weeks. Thanks to all readers for their comments and for being here. It is appreciated, believe me, and keeps me going forward. Onto the next 300.

Real men

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Our topic today is masculinity. Now, this isn’t a subject I have ever written about before but I saw a Tweet earlier, Retweeted by CALM (the mental health charity otherwise known as the Campaign Against Living Miserably), from the deodorant company Lynx as part of their new advertising campaign, which asks the question ‘Is It OK For Guys…’ to do various things, listing various questions that folk Google, as in ‘is it okay for guys to be the little spoon?’ (Whatever gets you through the day.) Another is ‘is it okay for guys to have taller girlfriends?’ (Who gives a stuff as long as you are happy?) The point of this advertising campaign is to raise a discussion about what constitutes masculine behaviour and make the point that people should be who they want to be. I wouldn’t raise an argument on that score. As a public service, I would like to answer some of the suggested questions on the Lynx For Men website. I should point out that I do not in any way endorse Lynx (indeed I don’t use their product) but I like this campaign. So, here we go!

Is it okay for guys to be skinny?

Now, this one does affect me. Despite not being the most diet-conscious of guys, I am quite skinny. It’s genetic. That doesn’t give me too much pause, except perhaps when standing next to bulkier guys with muscles and that. I do use the gym a couple of times a week – a recent innovation which I surprisingly enjoy a lot – and I feel physically better for it (and maybe even look a tiny bit better). For a long time, I have been self-conscious about my appearance but I am learning slowly but surely not to care. In short, I think that as long as people are healthy, it’s all good.

Is it okay for guys to wear pink?

Yes. Pink was historically considered a masculine colour and it is a pleasant colour. Again, whatever gets folk through the shift. I’ve been told red suits me as a colour and I have a long-sleeved T-shirt which could be considered pastel red, even pink in the right light. I don’t massively like pink as a colour but that’s a style choice, not because I consider pink overly feminine.

Is it okay for guys not to like sport?

Sure. I like sport. I love football. But I know quite a few guys who can’t abide sport. That’s fine. They have other interests and things that make them interesting, perhaps more so than those of us who spend sizeable amount of times watching 22 men run about a field or even worse 30.

Is it okay for guys to be depressed?

Undoubtedly yes. Depression doesn’t respect gender just as it doesn’t any other factor like wealth, sunshine or anything else. Samaritans and Breathing Space are incredibly valuable services.

Is it okay for guys to be friends with women?

I think so. Women tend to be more understanding and patient than men a lot of times, even with dolts like me.

Is it okay for guys to wear skinny jeans?

It depends on your comfort. I had a pair of skinny jeans a few years ago and they were so uncomfortable I swore off them for life, particularly after a day trip I took to Orkney. It was a brilliant day but the chafing just isn’t worth the style points. In any case, I looked a choob in them.

Is it okay for guys to cry?

Absolutely. I don’t cry very often but I have done, many, many times. I cry when I see a particularly affecting news story. When Hibs won the Cup last year, I cried rather than invading the park. I cried watching the Cup Final DVD the first time. I cried when I got offered my job. It makes you more of a human being because it shows you care.

Is it okay for guys to hug?

It doesn’t stop football players or sportspeople of most sorts. Like most things, it depends on the situation. But generally speaking, yes.

Is it okay for guys to do yoga?

I know at least one who does and it helps them deal with a physical job better.

Is it okay for guys to experiment with other guys?

Whatever works. Sexuality isn’t fixed or certain for a lot of people. People should feel comfortable in who they are, even if they aren’t sure quite what that is yet.

Is it okay for guys to be nurses?

Yes. Personally, if I was ill, my only concern would be getting better, not the gender of the person treating me.

Is it okay for guys to pee sitting down?

Not to be too graphic, I pee standing up, but whatever works.

Is it okay for guys to say I miss you?

Of course. Honesty goes a long way and if you care about someone, it just underlines it.

So, what makes a real man? From experience, it comes down to decency. A real man treats people with respect regardless who they are. They listen, they care. They go about with honesty. It’s not about bravado. It isn’t about the size of their appendage or their bank balance, about pecs or chin dimples. A person’s worth shouldn’t be measured by just their appearance or their IQ score. It is about character.

I am not the most ‘masculine’ of men. I don’t live up to a lot of stereotypes. So what? If I suddenly tried to be someone else, I wouldn’t recognise myself. I try to be pleasant to everyone whenever and wherever possible. That’s all that counts. I care only to be happy and to help others along the road, irrespective of gender or any other factor. I don’t intend to think too much about being masculine. I care only to live life to the fullest. Like a real man.

Sir Billy

BBC Scotland occasionally comes in for some stick. It is either too Glasgow-centric or too pawky and provincial, too pro-SNP or too Unionist, for or against Celtic, Rangers, Hearts, Hibs and any other group. The commissioning editors down at Pacific Quay have managed to produce no fewer than three programmes in the last few weeks which have been right up my alley, about the history of Paisley, the Proclaimers and Billy Connolly. That’s not to mention that Sportscene will soon be graced once more by the Hibees as they return to the Premiership. With Billy Connolly, they have played a blinder, producing a trail of three murals of the Big Yin around Glasgow city centre in conjunction with Glasgow City Council and Art Pistol Projects. The programme about the project played out on Wednesday. I went to see the murals yesterday. This morning, the Queen’s Birthday Honours came out and Sir William Connolly arose. I am personally against the honours system but for Sir William, and the posthumous award for PC Keith Palmer, I will make an exception. I would rather it was them than arms dealers and other shady characters like politicians.

Billy Connolly has long been a hero of mine. In my teens, I became very interested in comedy and amassed a considerable collection of Billy Connolly CDs and DVDs. He just has an incredible mind and can make almost anything funny, even the Parkinson’s disease he lives with. Laughter is vital for life and over many years Billy Connolly’s words have made me howl over and over again.

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The murals were produced by three Scottish artists, Jack Vettriano, John Byrne and Rachel MacLean, and appear in three locations in Glasgow city centre. Vettriano’s scene of Billy in Wick is on Dixon Street behind St. Enoch Centre while Byrne’s is nearby on Osborne Street. Rachel MacLean’s more outlandish one appears on the Gallowgate, just along from the Barrowland Ballroom. Yesterday I ventured into town by bus, getting off by Central Station and walking back along the river to Dixon Street where I encountered the Jack Vettriano mural, which depicts Billy Connolly, beard-less, standing on a clifftop near Wick while on his World Tour of Scotland in 1994. I was glad I encountered this one first as I know Vettriano’s work the best from his exhibition at Kelvingrove a few years ago and also from Kirkcaldy Art Gallery. In the documentary, Vettriano came across as an utter groupie when he was shown meeting Billy and that was rather sweet, Vettriano utterly awestruck to be in the presence of the great man. I liked this one the best, to be honest, particularly for the grey sky with tinges of white and blue. It looks much better in person than on the TV. Vettriano is a man of the east, albeit many miles south in Fife, so he kens the score with the sky. The mural was in a beer garden and there were a few others snapping and at least two selfies. At that point, I beat a hasty retreat.


At the other side of the St. Enoch Centre is Osborne Street, mainly a place to get a bus to outlying parts of the city but also a vast open space with car parking between all these shops. I came across the John Byrne mural all of a sudden, just turning my head and it was there. I liked this one for its honesty and details in sketching the lines and contours of Billy’s hair and face. There was a crowd of people snapping this one, all in a line down the pavement. I snaffled the best spot as the crowds quickly dispersed.


Rachel Maclean’s mural is the most outlandish and probably the closest to Billy Connolly’s more off-the-wall fashion sense. It is on the Gallowgate, just along from the Barras and the Barrowland Ballroom. It is the furthest from the city centre and so the one I had to myself for the longest. Inevitably the same couple I had seen at the other two swiftly appeared at my heels. This mural has a lot going on, a lot of subtle and not-so-subtle allusions to Billy’s routines over the years, as well as a modern background of a Glasgow street by night, lit by the sodium of a chippy. Appropriately, though, as I walked away I got a waft of a chippy frying on the wind. This one has my favourite story and style, even though it is also the most bonkers. In a good way.

Of the three, my favourite is the Jack Vettriano, the nicest in person if not on screen. That might have been coloured by his demeanour in the documentary as well as the sky which played to the east coast boy in me. All three murals, though, are a very fitting tribute to Billy Connolly in his 75th year, a much better honour than a medal could ever be.

Sunburnt on Arran

This is a rare Thursday morning post since I still have a backlog of posts and I want to write some new stuff! Here’s a story about an adventure to Arran a few weeks ago.

Growing up on the east coast of Scotland, it isn’t very often that the sun is warm enough to get yourself burnt. I was an indoors sort of person anyway so my skin turning any colour apart from its usual pale pastiness or acne-infused red was a very rare event. If I have been sunburnt, though, it has usually happened in the most unlikely of places. A few years back, I had a day trip doubleheader one weekend in May, to York on Saturday and Lochleven Castle on the Sunday. I came back from Kinross, of all places, bright red. The morning after I was on Arran recently, I looked in the mirror and saw that my forehead and nose were roughly the shade and hue of your average postbox, not at all expected when heading off some place on a CalMac ferry.

I had been to Arran once before, a couple of years ago, randomly enough on Easter Sunday. That day was beautiful and sunny though naturally I came back just as pale as normal. We had walked out of the ferry terminal at Brodick and turned right along the front, ending up just below Brodick Castle before we headed back and on the ferry again. This time I had ventured the view that perhaps we would turn left instead of right and see where we ended up. This was promptly changed as the ferry drew closer to Brodick by the left side bearing a couple of builder’s yards while to our right were Goatfell and a generally idyllic mountain/woodland sort of scene. We turned right, onto a street that we could walk down, and soon ended up by the golf course looking back towards the mainland and the ferry already coursing back to Ardrossan.

Before this trip, I had been looking at my OS map and thinking up possible ideas for our 3 hours or so on Arran, including a trip up to the north end of the island to see Lochranza Castle, since it was a castle and it was there. Three hours isn’t enough to do much more than wander and follow our noses, especially as we ended up in the grounds of Brodick Castle, sat on a bench looking down across the gardens and Brodick Bay below. Brodick Castle was shut but we weren’t fussed – it is a National Trust castle with a roof and everything so not our style – so we just sat and pottered about the grounds, up to a sequoia tree and to a reconstructed Bronze Age roundhouse, following the trails and admiring the flora before making our way back to the boat.

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In retrospect, it might have been sitting on the ferry in the middle of the Firth of Clyde that gave me the sunburn. More likely the way over since the return leg was cloudy and cooler, the Ailsa Craig not visible as it was on the way out. It seems a small price to pay to just be on a ferry and set sail, to watch the land grow faint on the horizon then disappear as a new mass comes into view. I like ferries wherever they are – even the Renfrew Ferry, across the Clyde to Yoker, has its effect – for the feeling of adventure, of being on your holidays, even temporarily. Even being in a ferry port, like Oban or Wemyss Bay with its Victorian splendour, can do that to me. Thankfully the sunburn doesn’t come with every trip or I might have to deny myself the pleasure of one of CalMac’s fine vessels sailing across the sea somewhere interesting.

Edinburgh Waverley

‘This train is for Edinburgh Waverley. This train will call at Croy, Falkirk High…’

I hear this refrain with considerable regularity, the voice of Fletcher Mathers relayed across the Scotrail service I’ve just boarded bound for the capital. Waverley is the main railway station in Edinburgh, sitting in Princes Street Gardens in the shadow of the Castle and much of the city centre sitting high above. At the end of the platforms facing towards Glasgow, you can see Princes Street, the National Gallery and the Bank of Scotland offices. If heading south, you get a view of Governor’s House, the last remaining part of the old Calton Jail that once sat where St. Andrew’s House, the Scottish Government premises, are now. Governor’s House isn’t visible from Regent Road – it is the tower that sits on a rock, pretty much only visible from the eastern end of Waverley Station. An underrated perspective you get from Waverley is when you step onto Market Street. Facing you is the old Scotsman building, now a luxury hotel. The printing presses would have been juddering to life and producing the public prints just across from the station.

The first glimpse of the capital that many get on leaving Waverley is walking up Waverley Steps towards Princes Street. Many folk of course take the escalator that was recently installed when the station was tarted up. The Steps were covered over since the top was the windiest place in Edinburgh, the product of walking up from a valley onto a busy, bustling city street. At the top of Waverley Steps, look left then right. Left you get a glimpse of Edinburgh Castle high up on its rock and Princes Street stretching out with buses, trams and all else; right you get Register House, Leith Street and up to Calton Hill, the Nelson Monument and the folly. There is also the Balmoral Hotel just right there.

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I have spent a lot of time in Waverley in my life. One of my most vivid childhood memories is from when I was a kid. I was diagnosed as being autistic when I was 6. It required several trips to the Royal Hospital for Sick Children (otherwise known as the Sick Kids) in Edinburgh. On one of them we were standing at the door of an intercity train when we were delayed because one of the roof tiles had smashed above us. I have memories of when my school class used to go to the outdoor education centre in Linlithgow and walking up the platform for the train, looked after by one of the older girls in the class. We also went on a magical mystery tour to Dunfermline, which I think I’ve written about here before, and came to Waverley the week before to sort the tickets.

As a day tripper, Waverley soon became even more familiar as most Saturdays, then most weeks, I darted from a (normally late) train from Dunbar across the station to a train some place else. When I started going to the football again, the spirited walks from Easter Road to Waverley in time for the train started too, this time late at night to catch the last train I could get for my connection back in Glasgow. Scotrail, naturally, put on engineering works later at night on that line last year meaning that the last train I could get back to Glasgow was not only 10 minutes earlier but went via Bathgate and Airdrie, taking longer.

The quickest, though not always the easiest, way to get from Dunbar to Edinburgh was by train. Trains were infrequent, mostly every two hours in both directions, though of course the last year or so I lived down there saw Scotrail introduce a more regular service. The last train to Dunbar on a Saturday night from the capital used to be 7pm. It is now about 10pm, I believe, though for many years, my day trips usually had to be curtailed by 7 so I could catch the last train home, an intercity train invariably full of folk heading for hen or stag dos in Newcastle. Or home from hen or stag dos in Edinburgh. Either way there were loads of drunken Geordies. Nice.

Regardless how often I’m there, arriving into Waverley gives me a great thrill every time. It’s a combination of being in a dear, familiar place, the hustle and bustle, the brightness from the glass roof and just the spirit of adventure even if my reasons for being there are prosaic and dull. The appeal continues even while I sometimes grate my teeth at the ‘Heart of Midlothian’ emblems that appear within the station. Waverley is one of very few railway stations named after a novel and to be fair they have acknowledged it well with loads of Walter Scott quotes, hence the hearts. The quotes are great, the endorsement of Ian Cathro’s mob really isnae. I think Network Rail has realised this and some of the station’s signs are now green, just to sate those of us on the side of the angels.

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Edinburgh is the city I was born in so I have a special relationship with the place, even while I call Glasgow, its great rival, home and contentedly so. Undoubtedly the best way to enter our capital is by train, so you can walk up Waverley Steps and hit Princes Street, even if you might want to be off it pretty rapidly. Any station named after a novel is fine with me, especially one where you can go pretty much anywhere in the country with not much difficulty and definitely one which shows off its city to its best effect from whatever angle.

Clipboards

I feel bad. This post was written absolutely yonks ago, well back in January, and it has been pushed back and pushed back as other things have been written and jumped the queue. So, I am publishing this tonight and another post I wrote ages ago tomorrow night. I have a great backlog of stuff to go up and at this rate I could publish it all and not write anything until September, which isn’t going to happen. Without further ado, here’s a post about a museum visit.

The other day I was reading a post on a museum blog entitled ‘I Really Hate Clipboards’, which brought back a powerful childhood memory. I went to primary school in Edinburgh, in a special needs unit, and we were taken one day to the National Museum of Scotland in Chambers Street, particularly to the bit that had just recently opened on the corner of Chambers Street and George IV Bridge. (I still think of this part, which used to be called the Museum of Scotland, as the ‘new’ bit despite the fact the bit formerly known as the Royal Museum, the ‘old’ museum, has now been redone and is now very much newer.) We were issued with clipboards with questions and prompts of things to look out for. I remember being in the Beginnings section in the basement, the bit with lots of dioramas and taxidermy just before it gets interesting with Pictish stones and torcs, and being bored out of my skull clutching this clipboard and a pencil. Afterwards my teacher asked me what I thought of the day and I said I hated it because of this wretched clipboard, to which she replied that she thought I would like it and it had been done partly for my benefit.

Even back then (I was 9), I was bright and curious, happy just to wander and take in what was there. A clipboard completely changed how I saw the museum. I am of the view that a learning experience, such as it is, can happen anywhere. I can think of more history I learned stomping about castles and museums than I did in a classroom. I know that schools have experiences and outcomes to meet, bits to tick off forms for the benefit of school inspectors, councils and the government, but the world is beyond the wit of the Curriculum for Excellence or 5-14 as it was when I was a boy. I have worked in museums and I know that museum education is an artform. Many people do it very well, including National Museums Scotland. They know how to engage people and clipboards aren’t the answer, for kids like I was or anyone else.

Streets of Glasgow: Queen Street

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Psychogeography is a funny thing. It is a concept about trying to understand cities better. Perhaps not at 8.30 on a Saturday night, though, especially when the only person sober within a five-mile radius. I had some time to kill before my train home and on the spur-of-the-moment I decided to do a quick Streets of Glasgow walk, this time Queen Street, which leads from George Square to Argyle Street. Very swiftly, though, I had a very powerful feeling of being ‘other’. I’ve experienced that a fair bit in my life. I am an autistic, library-assisting, Hibs-supporting, Glasgow-dwelling person after all so it’s hardly new but particularly when all these things come together and I’m trying to see a city street as if for the first time as merry folk shuffle and hustle past. It’s especially hard standing by the statue of the Duke of Wellington when two guys out their faces imitate my photo taking but a glare seemed to have done the trick. But we persevere and eventually I managed to forget it was Saturday night in the centre of the biggest and busiest city in the land and just get down to business.

Strictly speaking, George Square isn’t on Queen Street but I like it anyway. The City Chambers is the nicest civic building in the country. Look for the statue of Liberty below the flagpole. That night the street was mildly busy but earlier in the day it had been jumping, according to the news, with folk marching in favour of Scottish independence. The remnants were still there of the recent vigil in remembrance of and solidarity with the victims of the recent terrorist attack in Manchester. I am writing this post the next morning having just been hearing about another attack in London. All I can say about that is that we cannot ever let the darkness win. George Square is where our city gathers in times of joy as much of sadness and sorrow. I cannot help but think that those times of sadness and sorrow are coming a wee bit too often.

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George Square

The traffic lights at the junction of Queen Street, George Square and St. Vincent Street seemed to take an age. That wasn’t a bad thing as I could start my walk properly and just look up. Queen Street is barely a half-mile from one end to another and so I could quite clearly see Debenhams on Argyle Street and most of the street’s buildings. At the time I wasn’t sure how much of an essay I could get from such a short walk but then I looked above Greggs and found that the building is rather handsome in yellow sandstone with railings half-way up it. My lovely new Pevsner’s guide to Glasgow tells me that it is called Olympic House and describes it as a ‘speculative office block of 1904-6 by James Miller, with the popular Edwardian formula of tower-like outer bays flanking colonnaded upper storeys’. James Miller designed quite a few prominent buildings in the city and beyond, including the Grand Central Hotel and Clydebank Town Hall, incidentally. Something being described as a ‘speculative office block’ is an absolute beauty and sums it up succinctly. It isn’t really trying to be an office block, especially with some of the others down the way not even bothering to be speculative about it.

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Olympic House
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Queen Street. The white building is Debenhams on Argyle Street
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Olympic House again

I wrote about the Gallery of Modern Art in the Ingram Street post so won’t duplicate that but will rather write about the statue outside it. Not so long ago, it came out that Glasgow City Council was spending a staggering sum of money trying to remove the traffic cones that are ever appearing on the statue of the Duke of Wellington, either on his head or that of his horse or both. Now said statue (complete with cone) appears on much of the city’s marketing, some of it funded by that same City Council and its agencies, as an example of how our great city is pure dead brilliant and a bit quirky. I approve of a lot of what the City Marketing Bureau does. They make a virtue of highlighting the lesser-spotted pleasures of our city, including street art. People Make Glasgow is a nice, neat slogan. I’m not bothered about applauding what is essentially vandalism but surely there are better bits of our city’s character to show in our promotional materials, like wit or rain, to name but two. Anyway, I digress. The statue didn’t have a cone on top this time, I think for the first time since I moved to Glasgow, rather an umbrella since it had been raining and hailing earlier in the day, indeed the pavements were still wet from the last downpour. A cone did sit underneath the horse, though, for later reinstallation.

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Gallery of Modern Art
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Duke of Wellington statue
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This is on the steps outside GOMA. Not sure what it’s about yet but I like it

The best architecture on Queen Street comes at either end, at George Square and GOMA or nearer Argyle Street. There’s a building just by Primark and Next which houses offices, a branch of Subway, a coat shop and a bookies. It was another of those buildings with railings but in red sandstone and bearing quite a few elegant lintels and features around each window of its seven levels. Queen Street here is a wee bit run-down with a few shops up for sale or otherwise vacant. It is one of those streets which is purely a thoroughfare, a street you use to go somewhere else. It isn’t the finest street in the city but shows another side, particularly on a Saturday night with the dark, decadent and downright debauched very much on show. It is just another facet to Glasgow. It is a very busy place at night. That isn’t a bad thing, as long as people are happy and safe. In these times, joy should be cherished all the more, whether that is found in a bar or a club or indeed walking a city street looking up and down and recording what is there.

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40 Queen Street, reminiscent of much of the Merchant City

Sources and further reading:

Searle, Adrian and Barbour, David, Look Up Glasgow, 2013, Glasgow: Freight Books

Williamson, Elizabeth, Riches, Anne and Higgs, Malcolm, The Buildings of Scotland: Glasgow, 2005, New Haven, CT/London, Yale University Press