Glasgow

When I worked in museums, local folk would invariably visit and offer the parting comment that ‘I’ve come past here every day for years and never come in’. I would normally reply with ‘well, you’re here now’, said with a cheery smile. Now, though, there are plenty of places near where I live in Glasgow that I’ve never been near. For example, tonight sees Calvin Harris playing a concert in Bellahouston Park. It’s about a mile from here but I’ve never been. I have a major interest in history but I only went to my local Historic Scotland property, Crookston Castle, for the first time in April or May this year. It has cracking views over this bit of the city though I was most excited that I could see my local Morrisons. I like places like Crookston because it’s possible to get what Patrick Geddes called a ‘synoptic view’. I couldn’t quite see my house but this was my part of the world and I felt the same as I do whenever I step off a train at Central or Queen Street, that I am in the right place.

Glasgow is home now. What I like about it is that I cannot know all its secrets. There’s always something new to discover. A couple of weeks ago, I had an urban ramble through the Southside, into Queen’s Park and ending up at Cathkin Park and the Scottish Football Museum at Hampden. Cathkin I had been to before – it’s a public park now but once was home to Third Lanark FC. The terracing is still there but it is an eery place with some atmosphere. Queen’s Park was entirely new to me despite passing several times a week. The first part I encountered was a rose garden with stones and markers about the place celebrating Scottish poets. This was particularly appropriate since one of Hugh MacDiarmid’s best poems was about a little white rose ‘that smells sharp and sweet – and breaks the heart.’ (As an aside, in May, this poem inspired the 56 SNP MPs to rock up at the House of Commons to take their oaths with little white roses in their lapels.)

The views from the flagpole at Queen’s Park are spectacular, across the city in three directions as far as Ben Lomond and the Campsies. They were the reason I went, inspired by a conversation with a relative who grew up in nearby Govanhill, and I’m glad I did. Glasgow is quite similar to Edinburgh in that it has lots of hills. The only difference is that people usually live in Glasgow’s high places whereas Edinburgh’s sprawl ‘like seven cats’, as Norman MacCaig wrote. I was working in Castlemilk the other day and the views from the back of the shopping centre are brilliant, across the city for miles, bringing to mind Camille Pissarro’s quote that ‘blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where others see nothing’.

Sometimes you don’t need to travel far to get a new perspective on things. John Muir said that one merely had to bend over and look at the world upside down. I get a head rush when I do that so tend to go on a bus or for a walk instead. Or I read. Since I wrote the last sentence, I picked up one of my poetry books and read a few lines. I only had to walk across the room to do that.

Local doesn’t need to mean parochial. I’ve always believed that you can’t understand much of the world if you don’t try to understand the place around you first. Living in a city makes that more complex but it can be much simpler. Glasgow is a collection of areas and rather than thinking of it as one large metropolis, it helps to think of it as smaller villages, each with distinct individual characteristics. The Gorbals, for example, I associate with its library and the Citizens Theatre but also with Oscar Marzaroli who took street photographs there in the 1960s and 70s. Castlemilk is that view. Govan is the Subway, Elder Park and the river. To most folk outside Glasgow, this is one place, One Mean City. It isn’t, not entirely anyway. Every day there is something new here, architecture, a word, a saying, a view or something else still to be defined and discovered.

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Edinburgh

This week I have travelled a lot. I spend an inordinate amount of time on public transport at the best of times but this week was a record breaker. I have been in Edinburgh three times, in the Borders and across Glasgow. And I have worked a full week.

I hate Edinburgh in August. I appreciate culture and all that but I also find being in crowds and being jostled and approached by leaflet-toting galoots difficult. Edinburgh is my second favourite city in the world, I was born there and I went to primary school in the capital too, but I just get irritated very rapidly when the circus is unfolding. So I avoid it as much as possible.

Where I make an exception is for the Book Festival, which is usually that bit quieter and has the added benefit of being filled with books and the authors who wrote them. I was there last night for Quintin Jardine, the crime writer, and spent a few quid in the bookshop beforehand. Jardine writes the Bob Skinner series, mostly set in Edinburgh though Skinner lives in Gullane in East Lothian. I discovered them a few years ago when I was still in Dunbar and I issued a fair few across the library desk so I picked one up. As you do, I went through the whole series in about a month and every so often I do it again. People can get very snobbish about books and about crime fiction particularly. I couldn’t care less: they are easy reading, well written and set in places I like.

The event last night was particularly well-timed given the resignation earlier in the day of Sir Stephen House as Chief Constable of Police Scotland. Skinner was until the last book a Chief Constable and a fierce critic of the unified police force, as is Quintin Jardine, so that added a little frisson to proceedings. That his officers speak of the outgoing Chief Constable as a megalomaniac says it all, really. Jardine is a good talker and his events always have the air of being unplanned but intimate. He is possibly the only writer at Edinburgh who talks about passing through Prestonpans on his way to the event (by bus) or about golf clubs in East Lothian. I like Bob Skinner as a character because he is powerful but vulnerable at the same time and he has developed over time. The new Skinner is a highlight of my year but I always have to be careful not to read it too quickly as it will be a whole year until the next one. Going to see Quintin Jardine at the Book Festival is just a wee top up but always worth it.

Getting to Edinburgh last night and on Wednesday involved taking the slow train from Dumbarton where I work part of the week. That train is an express as far as Queen Street then it stops absolutely everywhere, taking ages to get out of Glasgow before it even gets near the capital. My backside was square by the time I hit Waverley both nights but I got a bit of reading and writing done and besides I got the faster train home, thankfully.

Wednesday night was much less cultural. I went to Easter Road to watch Hibs play Stranraer in a League Cup game. Hibs won but it was dire stuff. I don’t get to Easter Road that often because of work so still it was worth it, especially when you factor in the steak pie I stuffed down my puss when I got to the ground.

Soon Edinburgh will be back to normal. I don’t have a problem filling a day in the city and I have a list of those places I love that I want to get back to as soon as I can. The John Muir Grove at the Botanics, the Hermitage of Braid, the Meadows, the National Museum and Leith, to name but a few. My flying visits to Edinburgh have been good this week but nothing beats a few hours wandering and seeing where I end up, wherever that may be.

Walking and talking

Hello,

Welcome to this inaugural post from the Walking Talking blog. What might appear here are musings and witterings about travelling, reading, writing, walking, talking, football or whatever I am thinking about at the time.

I was just thinking about a place near where I grew up in East Lothian. Just outside Dunbar is the John Muir Country Park, stretching from Dunbar Castle to Tyninghame. It is a very varied place, encompassing golf courses, beaches and an animal park. I spent a lot of time there as a kid. Anyway, the particular part of the park that came to mind a few minutes ago is at the far end of the dump road, where it meets the Biel Burn near West Barns. There is a bridge there, leading towards the sand dunes or the firs, what is locally known as ‘John Muir’, and I was just thinking of walking there. It is nearly always muddy and usually smells rank (there is a water treatment works nearby) but the path leads to good places, whichever way you take.

I haven’t been there in a few years. I live in Glasgow now and visits to East Lothian are infrequent these days. I have to work and travels invariably take me elsewhere. (Tomorrow, for example, combines work and a trip to Edinburgh to watch Hibs.) I have other, familiar places that are closer to home and I seem to discover new ones as I go. But East Lothian is where I am from. However infrequently I visit, it is a place I think about a lot. It is where a lot of my formative experiences took place, good and bad, and my personality still reflects my upbringing there. I still have sauce on my chips even while I have to bite back the urge to end my sentences with the word ‘ken’.

When I moved away, I was told ‘never forget where you come from’. I am a Dunbar boy, sure, and that won’t change. I left because I wanted a different life but now I live here in Glasgow, I am not so different as a person, even while my life very much is.

I like exploring. That’s what keeps me going a lot of the time, going places and just waiting to see what happens. Sometimes it is possible to explore without leaving your seat. It is amazing what your memory can throw up. The dump road is a place where I have walked a lot. The last time I was there was the night a friend was offered a job and I walked much of the way with my mobile clamped to my lug. I remember being there studying biology at high school and walking our dog. I don’t know what made me think of it just now. I sometimes get random flashes of memories of places when I am reading or writing and this was just another. It’s spurred an idea to take a trip east in the next few weeks before the autumn sets in. We’ll see.