Remembering

My first visit to Cambridge was inspired by seeing a film partly set in the city. It’s called ‘x&y’, which features a teenager with autism who enters the International Mathematical Olympiad. It is also partly set in Taiwan but getting there is much harder. When I saw it, I was thinking about taking a trip in the autumn. I had booked flights to go to London and decided to link it all together, staying in Cambridge and going to London as well. Cambridge was an unknown. It looked nice in the film and that was enough to take me there. On Monday, I made sure I pointed out to my dad one of the key locations in the film, a Chinese restaurant where Nathan and his mum have a heart-to-heart conversation. It isn’t In Bruges, which inspired countless weekend breaks to Belgium but it was good enough for me.

If I’ve been somewhere before, I tend to be able to find my way around again. I bought an A-Z for Cambridge but it was surplus to requirements, as my (mostly) photographic memory was more than sufficient to guide us around. It is a very walkable place, flat and with only a few key routes through the city centre. We were staying just across the river from Jesus Green, reached from the city by Portugal Place, a pleasant side street that felt more in place in a village, with bikes tethered to each railing. It was amazing how quickly Cambridge and its streets became familiar, the best thing about a small city.

On Wednesday, we took in the Fitzwilliam and the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, finishing with a brief visit to the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Science. The Sedgwick was mind-blowing in the best way, enough of an insight into geology to make us feel thoroughly ignorant. (Studying geology in some way has been on my to-do list for years but hasn’t happened yet.) It was also very old-fashioned with wooden display cases and type-written captions in some.

The Fitzwilliam was the main event. When I was last there in October, I felt it to be the best museum I had been in all year. It stands tonight, despite strong competition from the Science Museum. The Fitzwilliam combines art and antiquity in a magnificent way. On Tuesday night, we were watching the local news that featured the latest temporary exhibition at the Fitzwilliam, about ancient Egypt. I thought it would be chargeable, given the exhibition included mummies and the results of research using CT scans. Remarkably, though, it was free, for an exhibition that even in Edinburgh would have attracted a £10 entry free. Ancient Egypt doesn’t interest me that much, if I’m honest, but it was an excellent exhibition and worth seeing. There was also an exhibition of prints by Turner, Goya and Cornelius, which was excellent. One of the Turners depicted Norham Castle, not so far across the border from Dunbar, randomly.

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Fitzwilliam Museum main entrance
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French Art room
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Upstairs looking towards the mezzanine

My favourite bit of the Fitzwilliam is comprised of three rooms upstairs, in the art collection. The French art room in particular is stunning, housing paintings by Van Gogh, Cezanne, Pissarro, Monet and Alfred Sisley. I made sure I spent the most time there, even going back before I left. Each of the walls had some absolute treasures, including a Monet of some red limestone cliffs that reminded me of Dunbar, as well as a Camille Pissarro study of a larger work that is not so many miles from here at Kelvingrove. Alfred Sisley’s paintings of French villages were beautiful. I just sat for ages before going next door to another favourite showing a young girl lying in reeds, reading, which is by Eduoard Vuillard.

Not so far away is a grand room painted in red with a mezzanine level. Above that was a magnificent ceiling. Words can’t do it justice. Below are some photographs. I walked around the mezzanine level three times, looking at the paintings at eye level first before next turning to the level just above me then finally to the ceiling. Sometimes it’s worth spending the extra time to take in the details.

Downstairs were the museum collections, which were largely classical. I particularly appreciated the display of Greek vases. Only last week in my OU course, I was studying Greek vases, with both black and red finishing so appreciated the revision. There’s always another dimension to any museum visit, in my experience. The Assyrian collections and those from Sudan expanded my comprehension ever so slightly again, reminding me, rightfully, that there is a world far beyond Europe and the Atlantic.

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Greek section

The Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, nearby on Downing Street, only added to this. It manages to wonderfully combine a display of the archaeology of Cambridge downstairs and the upstairs collections of totem poles, canoes and objects from Papua New Guinea, the Inuit, Norway and many other places besides. The section upstairs was excellent, magnificently old-fashioned, though the modern section about archaeology (if that makes sense) was similarly good, showing objects arranged in layers in a museum case, shown behind a drawn-on map of Cambridge.

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After this, we went to the Sedgwick and then had a last walk before home. The best thing about being in any place, and also the hardest, is leaving and not wanting to. I have been in many places in this country which I left quite cheerfully. Others I leave only reluctantly, wishing I could stay longer, sometimes for mere minutes, sometimes hours. Cambridge is a place to spend days, perhaps longer. I don’t imagine myself living there but that’s fine. You can appreciate a place without living there and giving all of yourself to it. There are magnificent museums and places to walk. It is special and for me, it all started with a film. I will be there again, absolutely. It might be a brief visit, maybe longer, but I will be there, walking the remembered walks like not too many days have passed.

 

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Strands

After having lunch at the British Museum on Tuesday, I decided to take a walk through the city. My eventual destination was the Science Museum, with a rendezvous time agreed of 5pm. It was just after 2 so 3 hours of wandering beckoned. I was headed for the Strand, following up on a tip, and walked down Southampton Row and the Kingsway. I walked through the crowds of people, many in more of a hurry than me, some narrowly averting death as they crossed the road.

Being a radio geek, as well as an architecture one, I was particularly interested in Bush House, for a long time the base of the BBC World Service, now relocated to Broadcasting House. I invariably fall asleep with my radio on, usually after Radio 4 has shut down and reverted to the World Service. Oftentimes the World Service is more insightful with a broader perspective on the day’s news, looking more globally, or just a wee bit. As much as I have my gripes with the BBC, including their coverage of Scottish football and the typically mealy-mouthed way they have handled the recent report into sexual abuses, it remains one of the foremost broadcasters in the world and rightly so. Bush House is a fine building, now part of King’s College London, with its frontage splendidly grand with pillars, sculptures and domed entrance.

From there I turned towards the Royal Courts of Justice, not so far away, passing a statue of Samuel Johnson, who even in statue form had a smug coupon. The Old Bailey looks like a cathedral rather than a court complex – many of the British state’s institutions do, really – and it was very familiar from many sightings on the news. The place was busy but I couldn’t see any camera crews, suggesting the judicial business of the day was suitably mundane. To be fair, it looks better in person than on the news, where it itself looks part of the ordinary.

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Somerset House

Somerset House was flying a yellow flag with a smiley face in the middle. According to the Creative Review, it is to do with Somerset House’s Utopia season of exhibitions and other creative happenings. It reminded me of an old workplace where a similar flag on the wall irked me immensely. So much so that it came down and was replaced by a picture of waves breaking onto a sandy beach. I am pro-smiling but anti-forced jollity, you see. The courtyard at Somerset House is stunning and I will try to get back for a proper look another time soon. It reminded me a bit of Trinity College Dublin architecturally. Thinking back on it now, I am thinking on how in many other cities, Somerset House would be the major tourist draw and it just shows the scale of London that it isn’t, though it was still busy.

Walking down by the Savoy led me past a statue of the scientist Michael Faraday, who I studied a few years ago during an OU course. Nearby was another BBC connection, a plaque denoting that a building on Savoy Place housed the BBC from 1923 until 1931, when Broadcasting House was built in Portland Place. A few years ago I read a biography of Lord Reith, the first Director General of the Corporation, which talked a lot about the building and how Reith insisted on locking it up for the last time, just as he personally shut down one of its transmitters a few years later when he demitted his post.

As I walked, I took in the architecture, a mixture of Georgian and more modern. I was particularly intrigued by gaps between the buildings, where developments and calculations missed and had some left over. Victoria Embankment Gardens had a statue of Robert Burns, his hair quite as messy as my own mop at the current time, which was a cue to hum along to one of Burns’s tunes as I walked.

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Rab

Eventually I found where I was heading for, John Adam Street, the Adelphi and the RSA, as suggested by one of this blog’s readers. John Adam was one of the Adam brothers, architects of some of the finest buildings in the country, including on John Adam Street itself. He is buried in Greyfriars kirkyard in Edinburgh, incidentally. The Adelphi itself replaces some Adam-designed buildings though is no less fine, art-deco and impressive, looming over the street. It is a fascinating building though one I would need to look at more in order to see whether it works within its surroundings. More generally, it is a beautiful street, full of individually interesting buildings all part of a very varied area that could proudly have stood in any city in the world.

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Adelphi

From there, I headed for the Embankment. I seem to have a habit of being on the Embankment when I am in London, paying particular attention to Cleopatra’s Needle which I remember reading about in a library book when I was a kid. I had vague plans to walk all the way to the Science Museum and just looked around at my surroundings, getting steadily more irritated at the sight of the Palace of Westminster ahead. I tend to feel a bit nationalistic in Westminster and the Proclaimers song ‘Cap In Hand’ passed my lips, at least until I fell silent as I felt a look from a girl on a bench. Not a favourable look, I guessed.

I walked past the Palace and sat in the park just beyond on Millbank. I looked across the river to Lambeth and sat and thought for a few minutes. I had done a lot of walking that day and the previous day too so was beginning to feel weary. A check of Google Maps also discouraged me – 54 minutes on foot was the same as from the other end of the Embankment, if I took the right route. Instead I walked straight back up to Westminster Underground and hit the Circle line, a short time later ending up at South Kensington.

I will write a post at some point soon about the Science Museum, the main reason for being in that particular part of the world.

Writing about this walk has been like downloading a zip file, a lot of details in a small space. There was a lot to take in and to process. The distilled essence here hopefully doesn’t detract or subtract from the actual experience. Being in London was fine, not entirely enjoyable in some parts, particularly being on the very crowded Tube, but I have made some peace with it this time. Even if I had to get slightly enraged in the process.

Bus stop sighting

I forgot to mention in the mojo post last night about one of the best sights I’ve ever seen. Walking down to the train station in Cambridge the other morning, someone had left a cummerbund at the bus stop. A cummerbund. Serious. How the other half live, eh? In Glasgow, you are lucky to see pavement pizza or to have any of the perspex left on the side, let alone a cummerbund. My world was subtly expanded.

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Photographic evidence.

Sights

Besides the stray airport thoughts I posted here last night, I got a lot out of my trip to Cambridge and London this week, a fair bit of which I am still digesting and will probably be thinking over for a while. This time, unlike my last trip south, I had my dad with me so there was a lot of instant reaction which you don’t really have on your own except if you talk to yourself. Over the next few days and weeks, there will be a fair few holiday posts but the first will be about mojo. Not the helper monkey Homer has in the Simpsons episode ‘Girly Edition’ – check out this clip of possibly the most surreal moment in that show – but the sense of being.

Now, the Urban Dictionary defines mojo in lots of different ways. The closest to what I feel about it is #2, which lists ‘Self-confidence, Self-assuredness. As in basis for belief in ones self in a situation.’ Sometimes I have significant levels of mojo, sometimes not. The Welsh have a similar word, hwyl, which isn’t in my Chambers Concise Dictionary, sadly, but according to the OED means ‘a stirring feeling of emotional motivation and energy’. In lots of cases, it gets the job done, whatever you call it.

Before I went on holiday, I didn’t have a lot of mojo. I was combining a lot of things all at once, including two jobs, this blog, my OU course, and felt tired both mentally and physically. Going away loosened me up a lot and, as discussed, gave me a lot of thoughts and places to go figuratively and literally. I felt that I got my mojo back too and could define it on Wednesday walking about the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. I felt contented and lighter again, just as I did at the end of last year and into this year. I even had a tune in my head, an earworm, really – I should be embarrassed to tell you that it was ’22’ by Taylor Swift but there are no such things as guilty pleasures. I don’t know why that as I hadn’t listened to it any time recently and I am a fair bit past the age of 22 (I like being 26 just fine but Taylor hasn’t made a song called that, yet).

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Cambridge, with the Fitzwilliam to the left. Sigh.

Just being able to wander and be curious makes all the difference and luckily being away and the way we carried on made that possible. What shines out right now as the part I most enjoyed was seeing what not everyone else notices, little treats that probably millions of others have seen but maybe not appreciated. That started in Cambridge on Monday. We walked into Trinity College to the building where the Wren Library is. We stood behind some rope and managed to see a fair bit of the courtyard. It was particularly good that two students were sitting on a window ledge there talking through an equation about probability, using the beautiful, historic building for what it’s actually for. As we stepped back outside, we stopped in a nearby gateway (shown below) which had some initials and what appeared to be a date stamped across it at various points. On one side appeared SMP 1864 and SMP 1842, that last more faded, while the other side had more with ASP above other dates – 1825, 1829, 1833, 1838 and 1853 separate, above and in black while the others were red. From a quick Google search, I haven’t been able to find an answer as to what they refer to though I have e-mailed the Wren Library to see if they can provide any insight. I wonder whether it was an example of gang tags, like graffiti. The Trinity Young Team versus the King’s Posse, or whatever the mid-19th century equivalent would be. I am interested in mason’s marks and graffiti in castles and like to spot examples whenever possible. This will have an explanation and even while it might be dull and prosaic, it’s still a mystery solved.

The list of random stuff seen is far longer. After having lunch at the British Museum on Tuesday, I was in one of those particularly whimsical and thoughtful moods, not in any particular hurry and just enjoying where I was. Outside the British Museum, I saw a tree spraypainted with a smiley face on the trunk and a public notice from the Metropolitan Police where they warned burglars, footpads and vagabonds that premises were protected by something called ‘Smartwater’. What particularly tickled me about this notice was that beside the Met’s insignia at the bottom were the words ‘Total Policing’. Now, I didn’t think the polis needed a motto apart from ‘Semper Vigilio’ but ‘Total Policing’? I wonder if it is like Total Football, the Dutch version of the beautiful game come up with in the 70s that prized passing, flowing football and each player knowing their place and that of each of their teammates, only it’s more with Tasers, blue lights and just doing it to 110%, being the best police anywhere, leaving no shades of grey. No, probably not.

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Smiley tree

Without making any sort of political comment at all, honest, I will also share an advert in a bus shelter on Euston Road in London, about the proposed third runway at Heathrow Airport.

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Bus shelter on Euston Road

I walked along part of the Strand in London before turning up by Victoria Embankment Gardens, John Adam Street and the Adelphi. On the Strand I took a slight detour to see the Royal Courts of Justice, frequently seen on the telly, and which up close really looks like a cathedral. I knew that I had seen the exterior of a disused Underground station somewhere in the distance but not sure where. I walked a little way until I found the exterior of Strand Station on the Strand itself and the entrance and exit on a side street. Strand Station later became Aldwych Station, once on a branch of the Piccadilly line before eventually being closed in 1994. According to Wikipedia, it is often used for filming, with the track being kept to operational standard. There was a taped notice at one side of the building, saying that if access was required during office hours to phone a particular number but I was too chicken to do that so just looked from the outside. I thought about the thousands of people who must have used that station in its time and what must lie underneath, lying dormant and derelict, becoming history.

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I like being able just to look, wonder and see what’s been left behind or shoved in a quiet corner. These are just a few of the examples of things that left me feeling inspired and once more a possessor of some mojo. I will share some more thoughts as I go on, including some museum reviews, inspirational quotes and more songs I sang or hummed along to along the way. It’s not all Taylor Swift, I promise.

 

Early morning airport thoughts

A few posts will follow in the next few days all about my trip to Cambridge and London this week. Tonight’s post contains (slightly) edited thoughts scribbled in my notebook at around 6am the other morning waiting for my flight from Glasgow Airport. They are only edited in the sense that some very sweary words have been expunged, though I am sure that you, dear reader, are robust enough not to faint when you read such a word.

Ruminations at an agriculturally early hour:

  • You can buy lingerie from Victoria’s Secret, Swarovski jewellery and a Celtic top all before 6am – for the glory hunter with expensive tastes, Glasgow Airport is absolutely ideal
  • Katowice and Gran Canaria can co-exist quite comfortably on a departure board with Stornoway, Campbeltown, Islay and Tiree
  • BBC Breakfast is still as pish in an airport
  • Karen Dunbar looks really thoughtful despite sitting on a hideous red sofa in the middle of an old street in the Riverside Museum
  • She still looks like she wishes Bill Turnbull a sudden and painful death
  • Evidently three people are required to work at a whisky bar at 6.30 in the morning and they are cheerful even at this bloody hour
  • Thank goodness I didn’t see there’s an Armani Jeans shop until too late or I would breathe fire
  • On hearing an announcement requesting some passengers put luggage into the hold, I put gloves etc. into bag, in case they might be an extra item or two. Thinking this might be pedantic, next thought: ‘I’m autistic. I’ll define what I like’.
  • Robert Wiseman Dairies clock randomly on wall – it’s always time for milk is the slogan
  • Beautiful sunrise this am – at least it’s at 7am, none of this 5 o’clock pish

So, that’s my collected thoughts from Glasgow airport departures. More elegant prose will follow about my travelling in due course. I had a great time, seeing many wonderful places, some new, some old, all bathed in cold sunshine. In the next wee while, there will be more elegant prose about some of what I saw and did, including encounters with a Rocket and some rocket too. Stay tuned.

 

Day tripping

There is one part of the day trip experience I haven’t covered yet. It is an exceedingly difficult one to write about, however, but I feel it might be time to cover it here. I apologise that it is a slightly more personal post than normal, covering more emotional and difficult terrain.

Being autistic is quite a lonely business. People on the autistic spectrum aren’t known for having fabulous social skills. Making friends is not something I find very easy. I wish I did. I have somehow become a social person. I work and I am told I am an outgoing person, good at being with people. But making friends and building relationships is very difficult for me and it still remains. Even though I can look at people in the eye now, and I can charm people and people like me, it is not easy to do. At times I can be lonely. Less so than I have been for a very long time. But it still remains.

I have been going on day trips for eight years, since a friendship ended. I used to go on day trips with him. Then I found myself with a free Saturday and I ended up going away myself. Then I did it again and again. My travels became a topic of conversation and informed my work. Many people now think of me because of my day trips. It’s ironic because what I first did due to being lonely connects me with the world now. The subject of this blog stems from these experiences I have had mostly on my own, sitting on buses and trains across this country, watching the world go by and spending a lot of time entirely on my own.

On some day trips, I used to feel very lonely and long for someone else to be with, to talk to and so not to have to make all the decisions myself. I walked or I visited places rather than sit in my room on my own. The worst day trips were always in the summer, when more people were around, couples, families and there I was, on my own and feeling it.

That’s much less of an issue now. I live a very active life. I still don’t have many friends, I still don’t have a relationship, but I spend a lot of my life with people. And that’s good. It’s not perfect but it’s my life and I’m not so lonely now. And my day trips are rarer but I often look forward to them for the escape, to actually be on my own for 10 or 12 hours, just to think, read and be in my own company. I went on holiday in October on my own. I had a great time. I talked to some people but spent most of the time on my own.

I once wanted to advertise for a day trip companion. I wasn’t sure where to do that or what kind of person I was looking for. A person of a like mind, maybe, someone I could share a conversation with and wasn’t shy of making the decisions. I am not sure I want one any more. If more people appear in my life, then in the words of Roger Deakin, I don’t want to have to cultivate them. A day trip companion can be other things too. The world cannot be compartmentalised and neither would I want it to be.

I have made some sort of peace with myself. I am not an extrovert. I am a reader and a writer. I am an introvert who manages to be outgoing when I need to. I don’t always want to. That’s fine. Sometimes I simply can’t. That’s fine too. One of the finest things about being on your own is that you don’t have to share. I can amuse myself quite happily. I make myself laugh, which is hard to conceal at times, and I think a lot. The best experiences I have had on day trips have been on my own, as have many of the best places I have discovered.

One of the earliest was my first trip to Durham, a place I have visited many times since, not always alone. Across the room now is an old railway poster showing the Cathedral towering high above the River Wear. The Cathedral is one of my favourite buildings on the Earth, despite my lack of religious belief. I feel at peace there, feeling a deep sense of connection and joy there, with the combination of magnificent architecture and beauty in that ancient place. My first visit was one morning in May. As I walked around the Cathedral, I think near the Crossing, heading towards the Chapel of the Nine Altars, I felt something that had eluded me for quite a while, that things were going to be okay after all. I used to go to that magnificent place and try to sort my life out. The last time I was there, last summer, I didn’t have to bother.

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Durham. One of the best views in the world.

Not having to share also helps in choosing what to do. Instead of compromising, I can be entirely autocratic and follow my impulses. I doubt that if I had been with someone else, I would have decided to cross the country on a whim or ended up in Aberdeen instead of Dundee or York instead of Newcastle, to name but two examples.

There is a significant difference between being alone and being lonely. You can be both or one or the other. Or neither. I have known both, often at the same time, often far from home. But I have become the person I am because of spending time on my own. I write because of being on my own. I read and I know what I know because of being on my own. Making the best of it. It takes time but fundamentally I am confident. In the meantime, I will plan the next day trip around my busy life and see where it takes me.

 

The London cunning plan

As discussed previously, I am not London’s biggest fan. It is big, complex and filled with rush and noise and general unpleasantness. For the first time ever, however, I am actually looking forward to going, as I am next week as part of a wider trip back to Cambridge.

The reasons are twofold. The first is that I have some new places to discover. I hold to the belief that cities are best discovered on foot and I have been given some cracking suggestions of places to walk near the Strand, which I will happily take up, not only out of politeness but because recommendations when given freely and sincerely are the best ones to follow.

The second reason is a rather shocking one. I have decided to give the British Museum a miss this time. Given that every time I have been in London I have made the BM a prominent part of my visit, this is astonishing but to be honest I have other places I would like to see more. Like in a football squad, day trips benefit from a sort of rotation. If the same places keep cropping up, they begin to feel stale and it becomes less enjoyable. So, instead I am going to the Science Museum, which I have never been to before, inspired by watching a documentary this morning on Ada Lovelace, a very early computer programmer. By early, I mean Victorian. The documentary talked about Charles Babbage, a mentor of and collaborator with Ada Lovelace, and his difference engine, which is on display in the Science Museum.

Rather wonderfully, the Science Museum has an exhibition about Ada Lovelace at the moment, along with another about Russian cosmonauts, which should be good too.

My knowledge of science is woefully limited, little snippets from school interspersed with other things I have read. I know a little about evolution and Charles Darwin, a bit about geology since where I grew up is geologically significant and a smidgen about electronics since I have a Higher in Computing. The Science Museum might be a major step into the unknown for me but for a couple of other factors. At the moment, I am studying for an Open University degree in history. One of my course books made quite a profound point the other week, talking about when reaching into a new subject, it is well worth starting with what you know about it already and building on that. Also, as an autistic person, I am beginning to know my limits in handling some situations. Being a seasoned museum visitor, I should be able to gauge when I have seen enough. Research helps, being able to focus my energies on some aspects and seeing what else I can do from there.

The documentary about Ada Lovelace also talked about Alan Turing, who found similarities between his thinking and that of Lovelace in his work during World War II. Alan Turing seems to have become a common feature of my holidays. When I visited Manchester last summer, I found a memorial to him in the Gay Village, a bench with a statue upon it, commemorating this scientist and his tragic end. In Cambridge, meanwhile, I found a plaque to his memory on Trumpington Street near King’s College. I wouldn’t be surprised if Turing appears somewhere this time too. Sometimes, there are connections when you least expect them.

So, that’s the plan. Cambridge will take care of itself. London isn’t frightening this time. I really am looking forward to seeing what I can find, making some sort of vague sense of the vast metropolis, I hope, as I walk and ponder.

Top of the page

I tend to be all about the words. Certainly this blog does. The design matters less to me. I only see the blog through the WordPress editor, which is a delightful mix of blue, sky blue and white. The headline image you see at the top of the page shows a set of sculptures at the harbour in Dysart, near Kirkcaldy in Fife, taken in September last year. They are a set of posts, created by Donald Urquhart. Each of them is painted a slightly different shade of blue or grey to reflect the colours of the sea at different times of the year. According to Dysart Community Council, the beams themselves are meant to evoke the masts of ships that were once docked there.

What you don’t see is the rather beautiful view from Dysart across the Forth to Edinburgh and East Lothian. I have written here before about my love of that view. I definitely think the Fifers get a better deal than those in the Lothians. From there, it is possible to see all the way from the Bass Rock to the Pentland Hills without turning your head. That includes Edinburgh, with Arthur’s Seat more angular and Salisbury Crags more prominent than it seems in the capital itself.

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That view.

That particular night was quite hazy. It was the night before they knocked down the chimneys at Cockenzie Power Station so it was my last glimpse of those.

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Dysart Harbour

I first discovered Dysart several years ago on a visit to Kirkcaldy Art Gallery, one of my favourite art galleries in Scotland. The Art Gallery was closed that day so I decided to go for a walk along the coast. I found Ravenscraig Park and first headed along to the castle, sitting atop a cliff. Then I decided to follow the coast along a bit, just to see where I ended up. Soon after descending the steps to the Fife Coastal Path, the view across the Forth opened up. Dysart came soon later and I sat there awhile, admiring the sculptures and the 16th century houses that sit on the shoreline. Every so often, I go back to do the same and I have never been disappointed.

 

My feet hurt: tales of an urban ramble

I was walking up Kingsland Drive for the bus when I saw it drive right past the end of the road. I had planned to go to Cathkin Park, subject of the recent post ‘If you know your history…’, and thereafter to Kelvingrove, on a sort of bus safari across Glasgow. As I saw the bus roll past, I knew it would be half an hour until the next one, it being Sunday. I looked at the Scotrail app to check when the next train to Glasgow Central was from Cardonald, just down the way. Forty minutes away. Then the decision was made. I would walk instead.

I have worked at Langside for a year and a half and for much of that time, I have considered walking the 4.1 miles rather than taking the bus. I have always believed that you see the most by walking. Even by the slowest motorised transport, there are many more possibilities to look around and notice. By accident rather than design, this was to be the day.

Walking up Berryknowes Road towards Paisley Road West, I looked up towards a row of trees on high ground around Crookston Castle. I was just about to get a photograph when a car pulled up right in front of me. I walked a few yards down and was about to try again when two ladies walked out of the church and stood just where I was going to. It wasn’t meant to be.

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Right by Halfway are a row of shops. On the side of one of the buildings are old advertisements (as shown above) that always interest me when I pass by. What normally catches my eye is the instantly recognisable Coca-Cola logo though as I walked nearer, I noticed that above it there is an advert for some sort of beer. Right above that is an advert for the News of the World, the now defunct Sunday tabloid. It always strikes me as a piece of history, forgotten about in some urban regeneration scheme, always passed by when there was a lick of paint on the go. It is splendidly old-fashioned, harking back to the days when newspapers carried adverts on the front page, leaving the actual news of the day until page three. It makes me wonder whether our age is truly saturated by advertising or advertisers have become more subtle.

I turned up Mosspark Boulevard, deciding to take a diversion into Bellahouston Park, where I had never been despite passing at least twice a week. I walked up a slope to an expanse of white wall that just seemed to be there without much purpose. I looked around, gazing towards Eaglesham Moor and its wind turbines, the Gleniffer Braes near my other work and towards the nearby Sports Centre, before walking uphill again. I found a set of sculptures, what looks like an ear and a railway signal, and a small maze (shown below). It was a special, hidden place and that would have been enough to earn a return visit without what I found behind the maze.

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It looked like a cemetery, a walled space with grey blocks laid out around it. As I walked around, the blocks had illustrations on the top, some quotation around the bottom with a plaque on some of them talking about an aspect of Glasgow’s history. These included banks, housing and, obviously my clear favourite, libraries. The top of the library block featured a stack of art books with a plaque talking about the contentious process by which newspapers ended up in libraries (pictures above). There followed a list of the public libraries then in existence in the city, dating it to at least before 2002 since it included Stirling’s Library, now known as the Library at GOMA. It made me feel incredibly proud of my home city and particularly of our libraries. I was also delighted by stumbling over this place. It made me think of how our history is so often displayed in museums but not out in the world, where after all that same history was made.

After that interlude, I walked across the M77 towards Crossmyloof, where I ducked into Morrison’s to get some lunch, before munching it walking through Shawlands towards the Battlefield Monument, where I ended up standing on a traffic island trying to get a decent photograph. The Monument commemorates the Battle of Langside in 1568, which saw the defeat of Mary, Queen of Scots and her forces by the Regent Moray. It is Victorian and it shows with the very detailed carvings and stylings. The Battle is also marked by a magnificent mural in the children’s section in Langside Library, just down the road, a plaque on the wall outside the library and a memorial garden just across Battlefield Road. Plus the whole area is called Battlefield. Not that other notable things haven’t happened in the area or anything.

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Eventually, I walked into Cathkin Park, only about two hours later than I had planned, and pretty much had the place to myself as I walked around the pitch and up the terracing, thinking and imagining past games. The sun came out again while I was there, casting long shadows across the pitch. That felt right.

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Before I headed into the city, I couldn’t pass Queen’s Park by. It was well worth it for the views which were thoroughly enhanced by the sunshine. There was snow on the Campsies and the Kilpatrick Hills though only a few flakes had fallen earlier in the day in the city, as I was in Bellahouston Park, but they didn’t lie. It was much busier there, mainly with couples enjoying the cold Valentine’s Day sunshine.

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The first bus of the day took me to University Avenue, from where I walked the short distance along the Kelvin Way to Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. By this time it was 4:20pm so I only had a short while to see the French art, Glasgow Boys and my favourite painting by William McTaggart of the Paps of Jura. Of note was a comment I overheard as I walked along a corridor. A girl in her early twenties was walking by with two other people, who might have been her parents. She commented disapprovingly that just that little section of wall was devoted to the Glasgow Girls where there was a whole gallery downstairs devoted to the Glasgow Boys. She was right. I had glanced at a couple of paintings on that wall and liked them but hadn’t registered who had painted them, to my discredit.

I walked along to Partick to get some messages before I got the bus back across the river. It went as far as the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, from where it is a 15-minute walk home. The outside of the bus hadn’t been cleaned recently and someone had taken it upon themselves, it being Valentine’s Day, to draw lovehearts all the way along both sides of it. Despite being completely anti-Valentine’s, I liked the creativity involved, even if it did make me feel slightly nauseous.

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Sometimes you don’t have to go far to see something new and exciting. Even going to Bellahouston Park, barely a mile from here, was enough. Doing it all by foot wasn’t planned but I’m glad I did it as it gave me a new sense of perspective on seemingly familiar places. I’ll be back in Bellahouston Park, probably approaching from the other side nearer Ibrox so I can go to the House for an Art Lover, which I have also never been to. My next nearby ramble will be to Crookston Castle, as seen earlier today, which I can even do by bus. But where’s the fun in that?

 

If you know your history…

Rather than posting a Valentine’s Day post full of doom and gloom, fire, brimstone and downright misery, I have decided that the most appropriate topics to write about on this the shitest of all the Hallmark holidays are football and urban rambling, the unsexiest topics going. Enjoy.

I have written here before about exploring the south side of Glasgow, where I live and work. In the next couple of weeks, Hibs – the team I support – are going back to Hampden for the Scottish League Cup Final. The last time I was there, we lost. It was a beautiful day anyway. After the game, we went out to lunch then I went for a walk not so many minutes to Cathkin Park, now a public park but once one of the great football grounds of Scotland, the site of the second Hampden Park and the home of Third Lanark. It is possibly the most atmospheric places I’ve ever been to because while it’s a public park, much of the terracing is still there, overgrown and blending back into nature.

Walking into the park, there are subtle reminders of its history. There is a plaque marking it as Third Lanark’s home from 1872 to 1967 and a mosaic on the ground depicting the club’s badge. They went out of business in 1967. I remember hearing a story once that they couldn’t afford to buy footballs and broke league rules by using a ball more than five or so times. There is once more a Third Lanark, playing at Cathkin but in the amateur leagues. Their league place was taken, after a few years, by Ferranti Thistle, which became Meadowbank Thistle and ultimately Livingston, ironically another team which has diced with oblivion a fair few times.

I have been there a couple of times, most recently one afternoon when I went for a good walk around the south side, taking in Queen’s Park and then the Scottish Football Museum at Hampden. But I made sure I got to Cathkin. I virtually had the place to myself. It was another beautiful day and I remember that there was one young woman who walked up and lay on a bench to sunbathe. I didn’t. I don’t do sitting still. So, I walked around the ground and up the terracing, taking photographs and standing and staring for a while. I stood and imagined the games that happened there, being part of a massive crowd jostling for position and cheering for my team. I thought about how I would have felt in the last days, knowing my club was dying. I walked the full length of the pitch and stood for a while in the middle of each goal and for even longer in the centre circle. It was an incredible experience, almost like urban archaeology, standing there letting my imagination run across the grass skinning defenders and hitting the ball right into the top corner.

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Strangely, I’ve only experienced a similar feeling once, when I was at Easter Road recently. I was there for a guided tour of the Holy Ground, taking in the Boardroom, the director’s box, changing rooms, concourse, tunnel and dugouts. Part of the route took us around into the East Stand, which is where I normally sit, to an area where there are commemorative plaques. Walking around from the tunnel, by the Famous Five Stand to the East gave me shivers. It was weird, eerie to be in this place I know so well when it was absolutely deserted. It was still quite evocative, of memories from when I was a kid and much more recent.

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Having lived in Glasgow for nearly three years, I am yet to see it all. I often find myself in unfamiliar places. It only happened last week, walking from one library to another for work. Sadly I only have so much time to go out and explore. I’m mainly dotting around for work. But one day soon, maybe even Cup Final day, I’ll pop along to Cathkin and stand a while. It might help that one of the few Scottish Cups Hibs have won was at Cathkin, against Dumbarton on 12th February 1887. Imagining Hibs lifting the League Cup is one thing – that’s happened twice in my lifetime so far – but a Scottish Cup, last won in 1902, is quite another. There’s something to think about and it’ll happen one day. Third Lanark’s day might still come too. Standing at Cathkin, there’s always a rich past that looms large into the present. If you know your history, it’s enough to make your heart go…