Loose Ends: Abandon Ship

Good afternoon,

We are living in very difficult times with worries for ourselves, for those we love and for the wider world. I hope all readers are okay. Posting anything here over the last couple of weeks hasn’t felt right. I don’t think the world needs another anguished, worried voice out there. Instead, I’ve decided to start again and post the rest of the Loose Ends series, every Wednesday, as before. There’s one tonight, which appears below, and one next week. After that, I’m going to post some old stories from the Loose Ends series with some new words around the older photos. When we can’t adventure, we can at least remember the ones we’ve had before and plan new ones.

I should point out here that this adventure and the one that appears next week happened in January. It feels like a lifetime ago. Without further ado, this is Loose Ends, from Dundee, from January, by a bar.

A mural of a ship atop a sea. Roses are in the foreground, some with skulls in the centre. The words ‘Abandon Ship’ are on the left.

I hasten to add that I didn’t get shipwrecked or pished this time, admiring some street art outside a bar in Dundee. I had noticed it from the bus as it came into the City of Discovery and soon wandered back to get a closer look. It connected with the last Loose Ends link, the mighty DunBear, because John Muir, who inspired the sculpture, went to America on a ship. The art was sensational with a galleon on a stormy sea with dark roses in the foreground, the roses including a couple of skulls. A grim end was duly promised. My day grew grimmer with the cold and the prospect of the football, which yielded a replay the following week in Edinburgh. But the art was nice.

The final link came just across the way in a building that looks like a ship.

Thanks for reading. The final link in the current Loose Ends run appears next week. The Loose Ends page features links to the other instalments in the series.

Loose Ends: DunBear

DunBear: a sculpture of a brown bear stood on a plinth against a dramatic sky of swirling clouds

Our last connection was the Creel Loaders statue, a fitting reminder of the fishing history of Dunbar. I was really in Dunbar that day to go see its newest resident, a muckle sculpture of a brown bear. The bear sits by the A1, the main road between Edinburgh and London, right by the road, McDonald’s and Asda. At least it won’t get hungry. It is the work of Andy Scott, the sculptor of the Kelpies over in Falkirk, and since its unveiling in November it’s been popular. I wasn’t sure what I thought of it at first. The bear was chosen in honour of John Muir, who went to found national parks in America, though it seemed a bit tenuous. I decided to go east to see it anyway, and when I first saw it, as I rounded the path behind Asda, I thought it was braw. It blended fairly well with the landscape, Doon Hill rising in the background. There was a steady line of people wanting to see it and get photos taken. I did my best to do the same while not getting anyone else in shot. I was at the Kelpies the following week and I noticed a few similarities in how both were basically metal plates stuck together, though done to splendid effect in both cases. The bear had claws and a tail, which I rather liked, though certain other parts of its anatomy weren’t immediately noticeable. I didn’t look too closely, mind. After a few minutes I left, content and soon to get lost in yet another new housing scheme.

The original plan was to go next to the Kelpies then end the third Loose Ends run at the Wallace Monument, though that didn’t work out as planned. Instead the last two came about a bit further north, by the banks of the silvery Tay.

Thanks for reading. Another Loose Ends post follows next week. The Loose Ends page features all of the instalments of the series so far.

Four London snapshots

LOVE sculpture: a sculpture featuring four letters, LO atop VE, spelling LOVE. The letters are block capitals, in red, sat on a black plinth.
Mail Rail Postal Museum display, featuring a flat train with engines at either end. The train is red and on its side has the words ‘Mail Rail’. It is in a museum.
Greenwich: a cityscape with an old building with colonnades in the foreground and skyscrapers beyond.
East Stand, Highbury: looking up at a building with an art deco tower with a glass frontage to the right.

To close the London series I’ve decided to pick four photographs from the four days and talk about them. The top one is a polychrome aluminium sculpture by Pop artist Robert Indiana featuring the four letters which spell ‘LOVE’. It was in Tate Modern and I liked it immensely. I don’t particularly like sentimental things and it’s hard sometimes to feel hopeful or optimistic about the world right now. But still, to quote the Darkness, I believe in a thing called love.

Mail Rail was an underground railway system which conveyed post underneath the streets of London to railway stations and post depots. The Postal Museum at Mount Pleasant has opened up some of the old tunnels and we went down there. It was excellent and they managed to make it interesting, bringing a lot of personal stories and perspectives. The Postal Museum featured one of my favourite facts of the moment. In the 1940s Jean Cameron used to deliver post in the rural Highlands though her uniform skirt could often make her ten-mile round harder. She successfully campaigned for postwomen to be able to wear trousers, which were thereafter nicknamed Camerons in her honour.

Picture three is the view from Greenwich Park looking towards Canary Wharf and the National Maritime Museum. It is an excellent view on a fine day and I could see from near (the O2) into proper London miles upriver. The National Maritime Museum flew a rainbow flag with February being LGBT History Month.

The final picture looks up into the old East Stand at Highbury, the former home of Arsenal, which is now flats. I love art deco architecture and old football grounds so having a wee daunder along what was once the pitch was excellent. Probably far more interesting than the Emirates over the way.

London was tiring but, a month after our trip, I still think about some of these wonderful experiences, of views, books and what soon became commonplace and other things which stayed spectacular. I’m glad I don’t live there but I’m glad I went.


Saturday Saunter: Sand, books and displays of books

Good Saturday to you,

Welcome to this Saturday Saunter, being written on Friday afternoon. I did start something the other day but didn’t quite finish it so starting from scratch. This is being posted early as I will be on the way to work earning the pennies.

My first thought is about Elizabeth Warren. The US Presidential election is going ever further forward and sadly Elizabeth Warren has pulled out of the running for the Democratic nomination. Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden got more votes. It was a little pleasing that Mike Bloomberg was also roundly gubbed on Super Tuesday. Elizabeth Warren is a grown-up and she had policies and plans for everything. She would have run rings around Donald Trump. Let’s hope it’s Bernie now.

I read earlier about Shirley Chisholm, the first woman to run for the Democratic Presidential nomination. She wrote that in 1972 being a woman was more of an obstacle than being black. Do yourself a favour and read about her. What an amazing human.

I’m writing this watching The Chase on the STV Player. I love a quiz show and I would rather have this on than any sort of drama that needs emotional investment right now.

Yesterday, Thursday, I was at the National Library of Scotland for an event in honour of World Book Day. It was a talk by Professor Tom Mole of Edinburgh University about his new book The Secret Life of Books: Why They Mean More Than Words, focusing particularly on how books help people form relationships. The talk was excellent, going from Philip Larkin to Lord Byron to the Fair Intellectual Club in an hour. The Fair Intellectual Club, for the uninitiated, was a society in Edinburgh in the 18th century, made up of young women who shared books and delivered harangues about them.

Tomorrow is International Women’s Day. I’m going to a talk in Dumbarton by Sara Sheridan about her book Where Are The Women?, which is about the lack of recognition of women in museums, buildings and statues in Scotland. It’s an excellent and thought-provoking book and I thoroughly recommend it. Both the National Library of Scotland and the Edinburgh Central Library across the street made a point of recognising women and women’s issues. The Central Library had a board about Dr Elsie Inglis and in memory of those who died serving in the Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Foreign Service in World War I. The National Library meanwhile had a display of books, leaflets and other items about menstruation, drawing extensively from the Library collection to produce an informative display.

North Berwick: a beach with houses in the background, the sand lighter in places as it runs with the wind.

Last Sunday we were in North Berwick. Aside from looking in a bookshop and eating chips and cake, we walked along the beach and despite the sunshine, there was a strong, biting wind and the sand blew in streams across the beach. It’s a beguiling spectacle and maybe not one seen on a very sandy beach.

This week has been particularly busy and I have been to Edinburgh no fewer than four times in the last week for various things, including twice for football. After three days, I think I can just about talk about the Edinburgh derby without swearing viciously or voraciously.

Anyway, that’s the Saturday Saunter for today, Saturday 7th March 2020. Thanks for reading. I might actually write a London post after this one so there might be something else on Sunday. A Loose Ends post will be here on Wednesday. Thanks to all for reading, commenting and following. Have a very nice weekend. Peace.


Digest: February 2020

Digest time for February 2020. A month of adventures and a whole lot of work. Let’s get down to it.

Saturday 1st February saw a trip to Edinburgh for a frustrating draw at Easter Road. I went up Calton Hill before the game. Always good to get a synoptic view.

The following day saw a Glasgow day. I don’t have so many pictures of it but we went to Streetlevel Photoworks for the Oscar Marzaroli exhibition then to Kelvingrove, finishing by going out to dinner at the Piper Bar.

From Monday 10th February to Thursday 13th February I was in London with my auntie as part of a late birthday present. On the Monday we went to the London Transport Museum and Stanford’s. Tuesday was the Harry Potter studio tour then a walk by the Thames including a hot chocolate at Tate Modern. Wednesday was a wander by the old and new Arsenal grounds before going to Greenwich and Mornington Crescent. Thursday we went to the Postal Museum before I went to the British Museum and my feet gave up. That’s a brief summary that doesn’t cover how joyous these few days were. I’ve been writing London posts these last few weeks so more will be covered, including Stanford’s, the best bookshop I’ve ever been to.

On Saturday 15th February I went with my dad to Kirkcaldy Galleries, which had a couple of excellent exhibitions on, Capturing Scotland photography and 70%, a contemporary art exhibition. Both were very decent and the photography inspired us to drive a little way along the coast to St. Monans, which had featured in the exhibition with its twisting harbour wall. Thereafter we went to Edinburgh to the Modern Art galleries, which had their usual variety.

The following day Hibs played Kilmarnock at Rugby Park. Hibs won. The train back was cancelled so a bus was for us, getting us back in time for dinner in Glasgow.

Saturday 22nd February saw Hibs play Livingston at Easter Road. Due to yet another storm, I just went to Easter Road then came straight home again.

The following Sunday was another Glasgow day including a wander amidst the anatomy and anthropology of the Hunterian Museum and chips at Old Salty’s.

Friday 28th February saw Hibs play Inverness Caledonian Thistle in the Scottish Cup. The mighty Hibees won 5-2. Before the game I had a decent wander in the capital.

Wednesday’s Child nominated me for one of those blogging awards, which is very nice of her, however I couldn’t do the responding post justice, partly because the only questions I could think of for other bloggers were something out of Monty Python. For example, ‘Goats. Discuss.’ Exactly. Better not risking it.

Related to that, after Loose Ends finishes in a few weeks, I’m intending cutting down blogging to once a week, on a Saturday. I have become increasingly busy lately and my energies are required elsewhere. Maybe in the summer there will be more time but at the moment, not so much. The Saturday Saunter will continue and it is always good fun to write for its spontaneity.

Our Scots word this month is ‘shunkie’, which is a word I rather like. It’s one of many words, in Scots and not, for the toilet.

Anyway, that’s the February digest. Thanks for reading. March looks set to be busy so it will be a fun digest, I’m sure. The blog will be back with the Saturday Saunter on Saturday and maybe something about London on Sunday. Have a very nice month.

Posts this month –

Saturday Saunter: Essays and football stress

Digest: January 2020

Loose Ends: Mitchell Street mural

Saturday Saunter: iPads and buses

Loose Ends: Fisherrow Fishermen

Love, again

Saturday Saunter: Gridiron and Kilmarnock

London Transport Museum

Loose Ends: Rottenrow

Saturday Saunter: Underground voices and twisting paths

Geeking out on the Harry Potter tour

Loose Ends: Creel Loaders statue

Saturday Saunter: Lighthouses and other stray thoughts




St. Pancras

St. Pancras: a railway shed with a curved, glass roof and a red brick building. Pink neon words ‘I want my time with you’ hang from the roof by a large clock.

We were staying across the road from the British Library, mere moments from three of London’s main railway stations, Euston, St. Pancras and King’s Cross. Of the three, as much as the curved, coloured roof of King’s Cross is nice, St. Pancras is by far and away my favourite, even though no trains leave from there bound for Scotland. It is of course the terminus of the Eurostar, which I really want to go on one day. The statues and art are glorious, even the Tracey Emin pink neon message, ‘I want my time with you’, which reminded me of those at home. The words on the ground inspire journeys and bigger thoughts to accompany them. The statue of a couple embracing, as people often do in railway stations, is very fine particularly for the details around the bottom, of peoplewatching and the variety of humanity who pass. I still prefer the winching couple in Glasgow’s Buchanan Bus Station, especially as its sculptor was John Clinch. The list of all those lost railway jobs is poignant, a reminder of those parts of the railway now gone amidst all the rest that endures. Even though I’ve never been on a train there, St. Pancras is an incredible place and worth wandering and even lingering in, amidst the art and imagining further, future adventures.

A statue of a man and a woman embracing. They stand on a pedestal, under which are scenes of people in life.
A statue of poet John Betjeman, standing looking up with his hand to his brow. His jacket seems to be flying back in the wind. Poetic words are carved below the statue.


Saturday Saunter: Lighthouses and other stray thoughts

Good Saturday to you,

I am starting this fairly late in the week for me, on Wednesday scribbling into my notebook. It is actually sunny right now though earlier there was sleet and all sorts. A calm day would be excellent. This appears on Saturday when up until now I have nothing planned. Hibs played Inverness Caledonian Thistle on Friday night (💚) so no football. I am away on Sunday so a duvet day might be a wise move.

There are times when I write this post when I have all sorts of ideas, other times not so many. This is one of the barren times but I’m sure I’ll get there. Since the news is its usual cheeriness, there’s plenty of scope but too much gets me enraged and that’s not what I need. Nor particularly good to read. As part of good self-care, the other day I went on a radical cleanse of my Twitter feed, taking out whatever would cause me rage or tension. It’s basically now Hibs, books, history and the odd transport company. The news is quite enough right now.

I recently read a good book called Seashaken Houses by Tom Nancollas, which featured the stories of various rock lighthouses, including the mighty Bell Rock. I’m going to see Tom Nancollas talk at Aye Write in March which should be excellent, as should the dinner I’ll be having at one of the excellent curry houses in the area afterwards. What should be interesting is his tales of camping in a disused lighthouse in February and his trip out to Fastnet as part of a maintenance crew. The Mitchell Library is nowhere near the sea so might be a strange place to go hear a talk about lighthouses but for a seaside person who now lives in the city, I’m sure I can use my imagination.

Barns Ness lighthouse: a white lighthouse tower against a blue sky with three windows up its left side, buildings below.

What is very real is a lighthouse being demolished. Robert Macfarlane Tweeted the other day about the Orford Ness lighthouse in Suffolk which will soon be demolished because of very drastic coastal erosion. A lighthouse always seems such a constant, permanent thing that one being demolished is a bit of a shock. I grew up near the Barns Ness lighthouse, which was decommissioned in 2005, and it still stands high on the landscape despite essentially being obsolete. I wonder what will happen with the remains of Orford Ness.

Yesterday’s travelling book was Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall, an excellent book about geopolitics that could maybe do with an update due to the UK’s exit from the European Union. (We don’t use the ‘B’ word here. Nor ampersands.) A lot of conflicts happen or are even avoided because of geography. I got into the China chapter the other day. One of those books that brings new thoughts and dimensions to them too.

Anyway, that’s the Saturday Saunter for this leap day, Saturday 29th February 2020. Thanks for reading. A London post may well appear tomorrow. The March digest will appear on Wednesday. Until then, have an excellent weekend. Peace.

Loose Ends: Creel Loaders statue

The last Loose Ends adventure took me to the site of the old Glasgow maternity hospital, Rottenrow. I was going to Dunbar the next day and already decided that the next connections would be there. The Creel Loaders statue, sculpted by Gardner Molloy, sits on Victoria Street in Dunbar, across from a fabrication yard. Victoria Street used to be called Cat’s Row, the houses demolished and replaced by more modern houses designed by Sir Basil Spence. Rottenrow to Cat’s Row. The statue has been there a couple of years and I’m rather fond of it. It marks the proud fishing history of Dunbar, the creels of herring, shellfish and whatever else regularly humphed many miles in the days before motorised transport, even as far as Lauder on the other side of the Lammermuirs. Dunbar has two harbours and there are markers on the ground pointing to both, Victoria to the left, Cromwell the right. Before the sculpture was there, a telephone box stood and I remember using it when I was a kid, having grown up a couple of streets away.

The next connection neatly tied up with the real reason I came to Dunbar, for I was going on a bear hunt, going to catch a big one. What a beautiful day! I wasn’t scared!

Thank you for reading. Another Loose Ends post follows in two weeks time. Loose Ends is a wider series and other posts from the series can be found on the Loose Ends page. A previous post about the Creel Loaders can be found here.

Geeking out on the Harry Potter tour

I grew up with Harry Potter, the books then the films. I read the first three then waited for the next as they came along. I wasn’t one of those kids who would queue at the bookshop at midnight but I would read them very soon after being published, lapping up every drop from the books. The films were decent even if bits really grated, the bits of the books which were elided or film additions that didn’t fit quite right. The main objective of my recent London trip was to go on the Harry Potter Studio Tour at Leavesden. A train to Watford then a shuttle bus to the studios. A timed slot and off you go. We spent three hours and it was a bit of an overload. All lights, noise, people and stimulation. It was all about overload management and to their credit, WB had thought of that with a quiet space available. I didn’t end up using it thanks to wine gums, sitting in a quiet corner and a well-timed toilet visit a little later.

Entrance: a statue of a knight chess piece outside a modern building with the words ‘Warner Bros Studio Tour London: The Making of Harry Potter’ on it
Dumbledore’s office: a room with lots of church-like arches with paintings above and a costume and a desk in the centre
Gringotts: looking up in a lavish, pillar-lined room with two chandeliers hanging
Hogwarts Express: a red and black steam train sat in a railway station
Advert: a mocked-up advertisement featuring a woman with her hand on her chin. To the right is a bottle of perfume and the legend: ‘Tonight Make A Little Magic With Your Man’

I love details and what struck me most about the tour was that nothing was missed from the movies. The sets were far more detailed than can be possibly conveyed in two dimensions, the crests of the Hogwarts houses on the cabinets in Dumbledore’s office, the elaborate designs of Gringotts and even platform 9 3/4 with a picture of the actual view from the end of King’s Cross station for added accuracy. Hagrid’s motorbike (really Sirius Black’s motorbike but we won’t quibble) and its sidecar reminded me powerfully of Wallace and Gromit and A Close Shave. One of the best days I’ve had was at Blackpool Pleasure Beach which has a Wallace and Gromit ride with a far better-priced gift shop than at Leavesden. One of my favourite details, if I remember rightly from Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, was an advert for perfume placed in the Muggle railway station where Harry Potter meets Dumbledore. Apparently it was quite an adjustment for the set designers to design something for the Muggle world after all that magic.

Harry Potter is very popular over a decade since the last film came out. The Fantastic Beasts films also occupy that universe plus the books and films keep getting rediscovered. Plus the play. The studio tour was very thorough and impressive and I had a great time despite the overload. It felt like being with kindred spirits, a place with people with shared interests and knowledge. I could just geek out without apology or abandon and that’s never a bad thing.

Saturday Saunter: Underground voices and twisting paths

Good Saturday to you,

I am writing this on Sunday morning in the midst of Storm Dennis. It is bright and a wee bit windy out my window this morning and hopefully it won’t be too bad for the trip later today to Kilmarnock to watch the Hibs. This comes out on Saturday morning when I will be on the way to Edinburgh to watch Hibs play Livingston. There hasn’t been a Saturday 3pm kickoff for a couple of weeks so it will be good to have a more gentle pace for my travels to Edinburgh and to have a wander once I’m there. By the time this is posted, another assignment will be written hence I am writing this on Sunday to clear the runway for 1,000 words of scintillating prose about a primary source.

Last week I was away to London and the next few weeks will see quite a few blog posts about that. I want to write this morning about the London Underground. To be fair I often want to write about the London Underground. It is an immense system with lots of lines, stations and underground passageways that feel like being in a video game. I spent a fair bit of time on it, particularly navigating Bank, which must have contributed to about 10,000 steps over two days as well as my very sore feet. Leaving aside Bank, two Underground things are in my mind. The first is Arsenal. We were up there to see the old Highbury and compare it to the Emirates. Arsenal had pot plants and a small bookcase which people could pick and choose from. No substitute for a public library, obviously. It also had older Tube maps from all the way back in May 2019 when Reading and the western reaches of what will eventually be called the Elizabeth line weren’t on the map. For the uninitiated, Tube maps feature art on the cover and the May 2019 map featured some words from Laure Prouvost:

‘In Grand Ma’s Dream This Map Would Always Be With You And Would Resist The Passing Of Time’

I like that. In the age of Google Maps, a paper map should always be with you just in case.

Platform 3 at Embankment: an underground train platform with the words ‘Mind The Gap’ on the ground and advertising and a station sign on the wall above.

Second Underground thing is from Embankment. There was a viral Twitter thread just before Christmas (as talked about in this Guardian article) which talked about why platform 3 on the Northern line at Embankment features a different, sonorous voice reading the words ‘Mind The Gap’. It was actor Oswald Laurence. Transport for London changed the voice a few years ago and Oswald Laurence’s widow Margaret McCollum remarked on it. She used to make a point of going to Embankment every so often just to hear his voice. In a rather lovely bit of work, TfL not only got Margaret McCollum a recording, they restored his voice to platform 3 at Embankment. I made a special trip myself while I was in London to hear the voice of Oswald Laurence, a reminder of the power of love and how it’s the little things that matter.

Last Saturday, I was out with my dad around central Scotland, particularly in Fife and Edinburgh. We went to my favourite art gallery, Kirkcaldy, which had an excellent exhibition of landscape photographs on the go. For those who will ask me rather than going on Google, it is on until 1st March. There were some very fine photographs including rusting, decaying boats, as well as mountains, waves and bridges. One of our favourite pictures was of the twisting pathway at St Monans Harbour in the East Neuk of Fife (as shown below) and we ended up along there around an hour later, stood atop a ladder and trying not to be blown away. I managed a couple of pictures on my phone. I had never seen East Lothian so close before, the 11 miles across the Forth feeling much less.

Anyway, that’s the Saturday Saunter for today, Saturday 22nd February 2020. Thanks for reading. If I’ve managed to write another London post, it will appear here tomorrow. Loose Ends will be back on Wednesday with a sculpture. Have a good week. Peace.