In exile

I write occasionally here about supporting Hibernian Football Club, currently one of the form teams in Europe and sitting second in the Scottish Championship on goal difference, behind The Rangers. There are many teams who play closer to here than Hibs, most notably the aforementioned Rangers, whose ground I can walk to from here. But I remain a Hibee who goes to games when I can and who indeed became more of a fan since I moved west. Why?

image

This shows full time at Easter Road following the recent 2-1 win over Rangers on 1st November.

The simple fact is that I can’t stand either of the Old Firm, the two teams which dominate this city, with their mutual paranoia and arrogance undiminished by both being on their uppers. Not to mention the songs and attitudes which all stem from religion and an island across the sea. As much as I am a very proud Glaswegian, the Gruesome Twosome give me the boak.

That left Partick Thistle and Queen’s Park but I couldn’t convince myself to support any team that I didn’t have a history with. Hibs and I have a history. I first saw them just shy of twenty years ago at an away game at Motherwell, which we won 2-0. I used to go with my auntie when I was a kid then lapsed as life moved on, still paying attention to the score but not knowing many of the names in the team. I had seen several good Hibs teams with names like Franck Sauzee, Derek Riordan, David Murphy and even briefly Chic Charnley, but things were different.

When Hibs finished 11th in the Premiership in 2013-14, they went into the playoffs against Hamilton. I toyed with going to New Douglas Park, having been thinking of getting back into football for a while. My team were in trouble and I wanted to be there. I ended up going to Easter Road the following Sunday instead, sitting with 18,000 others to see our team get relegated in a penalty shootout.

Rather than be discouraged, I went back again. I liked being at a football game again, even if the game wasn’t great. My next game was at Ibrox, complete with chucked coins, juice and pies in the general direction of the away end from the generous Rangers fans in the Broomloan and Govan Stands. I was then at Easter Road to see our goalkeeper Mark Oxley score from a goal kick against Livingston.

image

The view from the Away end at Dumbarton, in April

Last season, I managed to get to quite a few games, mainly in Edinburgh but some closer to home, including one in Dumbarton where I was able to walk to the game from work. I had two favourites, watching us win against Hearts 2-0 on a gorgeous April day and being back at Ibrox on a cold February night to see another 2-0 win, the second scored by my favourite player, Lewis Stevenson. I just like his workrate. (That night was also memorable for another reason. Rangers had not long put their manager Ally McCoist on gardening leave. To avoid bother, Rangers traditionally keep Hibs fans back a while to let the home fans disperse. One of the groundsmen went out onto the pitch on his wee tractor and the cry went out ‘Ally, Ally, gie us a wave’.)

image

Derby day, 12th April.

image

Sunshine in Govan. We did get beat but at least it was warm.

This season I have mainly been able to go to midweek games in the League Cup or on Sundays, mainly against Rangers since they tend to be on the telly. I have managed two away trips, though, one to Ibrox when I walked to and from the ground and evidently my neutral mode of dress made the steward ask ‘Are you sure it’s the away end you want, pal?’, and the other to Stark’s Park in Kirkcaldy about a month ago, one of the few grounds in the nation where you can trainspot if the game is dull (what used to be called Recreation Park in Alloa is another). My visit to Stark’s Park (shown below) reacquainted me with a very old-school pleasure, flat Irn Bru served in a plastic cup, something they also do at Alloa, where they also do a roll and sausage. Some other time I will write about the joys of flat Irn Bru.

image

Stark’s Park.

Hibs have been, for better or worse, a constant in my life and they can’t be moved, even if I can. They don’t always play well and there are times when I wish I supported Barcelona or Gala Fairydeen instead. But the current Hibs team, led by Alan Stubbs, is my team and I feel a greater affinity for them than any other I’ve watched, maybe because it was my choice to go back or because it was returning to being a kid, which is never bad in small doses. My next game should be, again, at bloody Ibrox just after Christmas and then the following Saturday at ER against Raith Rovers. I am looking forward to them already.

Advertisements

Linlithgow and history blethers

I travel a lot between Glasgow and Edinburgh, usually by train and usually via Linlithgow. The Queen Street-Waverley train runs every 15 minutes during the day and every half hour at night, making it the simplest route between here and the capital. Occasionally, due to working in Dumbarton, I sometimes take the slower route via Airdrie and Bathgate, which slightly makes one lose the will to live by the time the train hits West Lothian, let alone Edinburgh. Sometimes I like to take the bus too, just for a change of scene.

image

Linlithgow is a place I know well, notwithstanding passing through it several times a month. I first visited when I was in primary school, when my class went to an outdoor education centre there. We went to Beecraigs and Muiravonside Country Parks, to see the deer and walk a while. One year we did some orienteering in the Peel, the park around the Palace. The only flaw being that there was snow on the ground and ice on the paths.

I’ve always liked the place. I associate it with good childhood memories but also with history and wonder. Like Dunbar, where I grew up, Linlithgow is very historical, with an old high street as well as its Palace and St Michael’s Church with its spire of thorns. It even has a family bakers, which Dunbar sadly doesn’t have any more, as well as superb public transport links, which my home town certainly doesn’t have either.

By a quirk of train ticketing systems, it used to be slightly cheaper to buy a return from Dunbar to Linlithgow than to Edinburgh, which is 20 miles closer. I believe it is something to do with prices to Dunbar being set from Westminster owing to it being on the East Coast mainline and Linlithgow prices being set by the Scottish Government. On day trip Saturdays, Linlithgow was an easy choice, a place I knew I liked and was fairly near to hand.

I have been an Historic Scotland member for years and first bought my membership on my birthday at my favourite HS property. The Palace is a ruin, which is enough to put folk off, but it is a very complete ruin and at several points one can make a complete circuit of the building. When I go, I pick a tower and start from there, moving around in a circle, moving steadily upwards to the top.

image

image

The top has splendid views across the Loch, the town and the countryside beyond, only marginally affected by the constant sound of cars on the M9 on the other side of the Loch.

It is architecturally interesting, with a fountain in the centre of the courtyard as well as elaborate features on the walls, including one which would have held three statues symbolising the Three Estates which used to constitute the Scottish Parliament, the burgesses, lords and clergy.

On my last visit, in April, I paid particular attention to the fountain, which HS recently restored to magnificent effect. It was a nice spring day which underlined the fountain’s beauty, though I am sure if I visited in this past week with the epic rain, it still would have looked good.

image

Masonry interests me. Stone is surprisingly subtle, requiring in lots of cases gentle chipping rather than knocking great lumps out of it. The fountain in Linlithgow Palace is a great example where the old and the new has been blended together by HS’s team of masons, keeping up old arts in these decidedly modern times.

History is an area that fascinates me. I am just about to study it again, which will make the next few years busy but endlessly interesting. I became interested when I was a kid and haven’t stopped. Every time I go near the High Street in Edinburgh, I think of the Scottish Enlightenment and the fifty men of genius that one could shake by the hand. (It also amuses me that Jehovah’s Witnesses stand with their magazines outside the High Court right by the statue of David Hume, a great Enlightenment figure who espoused rationalism). I also think about the quote from The Heart of Midlothian by Walter Scott, where one of the characters talks about when there was a Parliament in Edinburgh (pre-1707), folks could pelt them with stones if they weren’t good bairns, but no one’s stones could reach the length of London. Thankfully the present politicians sitting in Holyrood don’t tend to be pelted with stones that often. We have the fourth and now the fifth estate, social media, for that, good or ill.

Linlithgow is a place that inspires thoughts about how things once were, requiring not so much imagination to do so. Alex Salmond grew up in Linlithgow and talks of hearing his grandfather’s tales of the great, nation-changing events that happened right there and not so far away. I remember walking around Dunbar as a kid and hearing stories of the Castle and John Muir. As I grew older, I became more interested and read more, learning far more than I ever did at school. For a while I even talked history for a living, working in museums.

Orienteering in the snow and ice seems pointless at first. It remains one of my best memories because it was in a place I liked and wanted to explore. It is a feeling that comes back every time I go somewhere out of my routine, new or dear and familiar, and it informs how I live life each and every day now.

Walking in the rain

Before turning to other matters, the events in Paris on Friday are dominating the news right now. It is hard to summon up thoughts to encapsulate the horror of what happened. Other people, many others, have tried. The victims’ families and friends who are grieving deserve our thoughts and prayers right now. Air strikes and victimising a whole religion because of the actions of some fucking nutters, that’s not the way to go. I really don’t know what to think about it all. The comedian John Oliver summed it up well the other night. Find the clip online, if you can.

I am starting this post standing on a platform at Waverley Station in Edinburgh. I am heading home from watching Hibs play Livingston at Easter Road. (2-1 Hibs but they were not at their best tonight). It’s late at night and to be honest I just want to go home. Naturally the train is taking a longer route back to Glasgow due to engineering work, via Falkirk Grahamston and Cumbernauld. At some point I will write here about Cumbernauld but not tonight. It’s no’ nice.

image

That’s a picture out the window at Waverley, just before the train left. On-the-spot blogging here, folks.

Anyway, what I actually wanted to write about tonight was walking in the rain. It has rained a lot the last few days – Storm Abigail is one name for it, another is Scotland in November. It was properly horrible when I left Glasgow earlier though the rain was a bit lighter when I got to Edinburgh. I had time to kill before the game so ended up taking a very long, meandering walk to Easter Road via the New Town, not particularly caring about the rain, just enjoying putting one foot in front of another for a while. I know the capital well anyway but this particular walk covered terrain I often covered on day trips in the past, when I often went to Edinburgh from Dunbar, very often on grounds of cost. I often went on drifting walks through the New Town, following the concept of psychogeography, the derive or aimless drift, following my impulses in turning this way or that before eventually figuring out where eventually I was heading. Tonight I headed down Frederick Street towards St Vincent Street and the old church at its foot, before turning right towards Canonmills. I walked along Eyre Place towards Broughton Road, eventually hitting Leith Walk from McDonald Road. I was still too early and headed up the Walk to London Road, Easter Road and finally Albion Road leading me to the Holy Ground.

The walk itself didn’t yield much spiritual insight or some great idea. Not all walks have to. The main benefit was just to walk and to be out in the world a while. Plus being out of Glasgow, even being in a different part of Edinburgh, loosened me up a bit. Since I came back from holiday, I haven’t been very far, except Edinburgh, and a change of scenery helps no end, as it did tonight.

At Linlithgow now. Another place I will write about another time.

Walking in the rain is not bad, when it is light. Sometimes, in our climate, you have to go with what it’s like on the day. Fortunately our capital looks nice in most weathers and it was good to spend the time this evening. Even better because of James Keatings, though. Night, night

Dublin

I was doing some writing earlier and while writing about Durham, I ended up thinking about Dublin. They are very different places, I like both very much, though the context that set my brain going, and which links them, was religious books. I was writing a little about the Lindisfarne Gospels and remembered the morning I spent at Trinity College Dublin, looking at pages from the Book of Kells and the Book of Durrow before walking up into the Long Library, a glorious space where I spent as much time as I could just absorbing the atmosphere. I would still be there now if there weren’t burly security guards about the place to deter folk from doing just that.

image

I was last in Dublin in January. I’ve been there three times in all, twice for a few days and once for a day trip by Ryanair. It was the first place I went to on holiday on my own, about three years ago. I wasn’t completely on my own – I met a friend who came up from Cork to meet me one of the days – but it was an incredible experience, to be in another country and an unfamiliar one at that, free just to explore and see what was doing. I felt a similar experience when I was in Cambridge recently, another new place but of course a more familiar country. Dublin is English-speaking (well, just) but has different money, TV, architecture, flags and traffic crossing noises. (They sound like something being sucked up into a vacuum tube. Listen sometime – it’s a brilliant noise.)

My second favourite building in Dublin is the General Post Office (below), on O’Connell Street, possibly the only post office anywhere with actual bullet holes in the walls. It’s very much a post office, though, despite its history. It even has self-issue machines, which tickled me when I first saw them.

image

Nearby is Eason’s the stationers, a bookshop like what WH Smith used to be. The last time I was there I managed to get a copy of History Scotland magazine, which only the week before I couldn’t source in Glasgow. I also nearly collapsed when I saw the magnificent Irish sheep calendar, showing sheep in various parts of the Irish countryside, including a few dangerously close to the edge of cliffs. One duly came back to Scotland with me and hangs in one of my workplaces to this day. When I leave that particular place soon, my lasting legacy will undoubtedly be the 2016 version right there on the wall, and then the next one after that.

My favourite building is the Chester Beatty Library, a collection of religious manuscripts and objects in the grounds of Dublin Castle. It is fascinating and that is reason enough to love it, even without considering the fabulous cafe in the courtyard, which serves middle eastern cuisine. The last time I went to Dublin I was about as excited about having lunch at the Chester Beatty Library than about going to see anything else.

(Apropos of nothing else, I saw this on a pavement by the Liffey.)

image

My next trip won’t be until next year or the year after. More than likely, my next foray across the Irish Sea will be to Belfast and the Ulster Museum, a place I only got a fleeting glimpse of on my last visit. That might be in the New Year, all being well. If I am tempted south too, then it’ll be hard to stop myself.

Pens

Yesterday was Autistics Speaking Day, at least on the Internet, anyway. A lot of new ‘days’ have emerged, including 4th May to mark Star Wars day and a couple of weeks ago was Ada Lovelace Day, to commemorate an early computing engineer and by early I mean Victorian. I think every day should be celebrated though there comes a point when you need to live your life and not be on permanent holiday or ‘Internet holiday’ mode.

Anyway, yesterday I only saw it was Autistics Speaking Day on Twitter later on in the day. I couldn’t be bothered writing a post after writing one about walking in Edinburgh. So, here is a belated post, all about pens.

I have a lot of pens. Day to day, I carry two, a black ball-point and a fancy gel or ink pen in blue. The former is for regular writing, notes, signatures, while the latter is my proper creative pen. At the moment I use a Zebra Z-Grip Flight for my boring pen. It looks good and is light in my hand. Most importantly it doesn’t smear on the page. I bought it in Morrison’s. My fancy pen came from Paperchase and is an Uni-ball Vision Elite. It is also light in heft but writes quite heavily in dark blue.

So why am I writing about pens for Autistics Speaking Day? A pen for me, like most people, is a tool. It is also a sacred object and yet easily thrown away. Incredible words come out of pens as a sort of conduit. The pen is mightier than the sword, after all. But mainly because when I feel stressed, I can slip a pen into my hand, click or just hold it and it’s fine, I have some degree of control again. In academic books, it’s called local coherence and people find it in different ways. When I was in London a couple of weeks ago, I was in Liverpool Street Station at rush hour. What I did was focus on the PA announcements, listening to the rhythm of the place names as recited. On the Underground, as I often do on the Glasgow Subway, I kept my eyes on the map or on the adverts. Other people do other things. Some stim and make noises or actions. Others visualise a happier place or time. I think that’s true of lots of people whether they are on the spectrum or not.

I usually click the pen at least twice, which is of course practical as getting ink over your hands isn’t an ideal scenario. Usually it’s my boring pen I use as most fancy pens I use have a lid. Sometimes I click more, sometimes less. Even when I don’t have paper to write on, I will always have a pen either on me or nearby, just in case. Thankfully I don’t have meltdowns much anymore and I have well-honed strategies about keeping myself okay. Carrying a pen is one of them though it’s more than a crutch as I’ve said: it’s a tool for life.

A story to finish on. A few years ago, I went for the day to the Samye Ling Buddhist monastery in Eskdalemuir in Dumfries and Galloway. I was particularly captivated when I was there by a little island surrounded by a pond. It had a little Buddha sitting on a pedestal and lots of windchimes. People had left a little something of themselves there, prayers, buttons, money, I think. I took a pen from my pocket and left it there, my sacred in a larger sacred place.

Sunshine on Leith

I went to Edinburgh today. Mainly for the football (2-1 Hibs, since you ask, and against the Rangers too) but I also managed to take in some culture and have a walk while I was at it.

I left Glasgow early, to avoid too many Rangers fans being on the train through to the capital. Glasgow city centre was pleasantly bustly for that time of day. It was a nice, sunny morning, which thankfully continued to Edinburgh. Often if it is nice in the West, it is horrible in the East or vice versa.

I headed to the Portrait Gallery where I knew there was a small display of photographs of lower league football grounds and scenes, including at least one I have actually been to (Recreation Park in Alloa), as it turns out. My favourite was showing a junior game at, I think, Whitehill Welfare in Midlothian which showed some wee laddies swinging around on the barriers while the game was happening behind them. Another interesting one showed the seats at Meadowbank Stadium in Edinburgh, which are all numbered out of order and a bit old compared to the sleek, plastic seat I plonked my arse on at Easter Road later on.

Also on display in that gallery were some other documentary photographs, with different themes. Some were of Jamaica, in the context of the links between Scotland and slavery. Others were of female farmers in different parts of the country while there was also a display of photographs of participants in the Common Ridings and other festivals in Border towns, like Galashiels, Selkirk, Hawick, Duns and Peebles. I liked them all for different reasons, particularly the farmers with the insights into their lives and the varying landscapes they work in.

Also on was the BP Portrait Award, which I didn’t know was on. It was a cracking show, very varied, though as ever the one I liked most didn’t win (I didn’t take a note of the title – it’s the one facing the back wall with a portrait of an older man with a beard and portraits behind him).

After this unexpected detour, I took a slow walk to Easter Road, taking a mazy meander through the New Town. I had been curious since I was a kid about where Radio Forth was based on Forth Street and on an impulse walked along to see. It’s a surprisingly grand building, quite reminiscent of buildings on Charlotte Square, though all locked up given it was a Sunday.

After the game, I walked back into town along London Road. It was getting close to sunset and the sky was gorgeous. On impulse I headed up Calton Hill, which was invariably busy with tourists enjoying the comprehensive views over our capital. And rightly so.

image

image

image

image

The sun was low over the city centre so I didn’t take any photos of that. Plus every man and their dug takes photos of that view, fine as it is. As I walked, I had a line of poetry by Hugh MacDiarmid in my head, about Edinburgh being a ‘mad God’s dream’, not quite remembering the rest of the quote. Given the result at Easter Road and the weather over the Port at that particular moment, my thoughts soon turned, as they often do, to Sunshine on Leith, as demonstrated below.

image

Not bad at all.