Missing the sea

Whenever people ask me if I miss Dunbar, I always say ‘I miss the sea’. And it’s true. My life is so radically different that my life there and my life here are like night and day. I am the same person but enhanced by the new opportunities and experiences I’ve had. But I still miss the sea.

Every few months, I get pangs, feelings that I need to go back, just to get a top up. The last time I was there, before last Friday, was just after I was away to Cambridge in October. It was a beautiful autumn day and I took a walk along the Prom down to Belhaven. I have a particular route I take whenever I’m there. I walk along the High Street then through the Glebe and down the stairs, taking the John Muir Way up to the War Memorial and along the Prom right to the end. From there, I walk down the stairs again and along the side of the golf course to end up at the Bridge to Nowhere. I sit there a while then walk back. Once I hit the Glebe, I head by the Pool along Castle Street and down the Vennel to walk by the East Beach. At Woodbush, I walk up the hill to East Links Road and then along to the other prom as far as the other golf course. I walk back and usually that’s time to head for the train home.

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Dunbar Castle, from near Bayswell
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The Prom
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Belhaven Bay
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East Links

I have a conflicted relationship with Dunbar. It’s where I am from but I am not entirely of the place. I went to primary school in Edinburgh and of course now live in Glasgow, which I love. There was always a further horizon, another place to be. I worked there and knew some people but looking back, a big move had to happen. There is more of a world beyond the Beltonford Roundabout and I have always had an outlook that reflects that. I found that I couldn’t grow as a person. It’s been more possible here. But I am still a Dunbar boy, my formative experiences were largely there, I still speak (mostly) the same way and I like pretty much the same things. I cannot shake the place and I have the feeling it won’t let me.

When I go back, it doesn’t feel like home any more. It feels weird, like this place I know well from my past but not a place where my soul lives or anything. But I still feel a need to go back every so often. I just need a walk along to Belhaven, to just feel the air and the wind on my face, just to reset and recharge before going back to my hectic life. So maybe that is what home is, the place you go when you need to start afresh and take stock. It’s here at home in Glasgow but I get it at Belhaven as I do at Prestongrange and a couple of other places.

I miss the sea. I used to be able to see it from my bedroom window. All I can see now is houses. I miss the sea far more than I do Dunbar itself. I think it’s a wee bit worse this weather because my new commute doesn’t take me within sight of it. When I used to work in Dumbarton, the stretch from Bowling to Milton with the harbour before the train passes close to the shoreline, that sustained me a bit. Being by water is soothing and has great possibilities for thought, to consider the colours, the storms abrewing or the distances visible across it. Growing up in Dunbar gave me my need to be by the sea. Even in the big city, that hasn’t changed. It just needs more effort to make it happen, that’s all.

 

Promenading

The Prom is a clifftop walk in Dunbar, where I grew up. Its official title is the Clifftop Trail and it is part of the John Muir Way, a long-distance footpath that stretches from the High Street all the way to Helensburgh. I must have walked it thousands of times, in hail, rain, sunshine, day and night, in good mood as well as bad. I have even run along it, deliberately, I should point out. It was built in 1893 and leads from Bayswell to the edge of the Winterfield Golf Course, where steps take you down to the shoreline.

I didn’t like school very much. I didn’t have friends and I spent a lot of time alone. Most lunchtimes, if the weather was okay, I would go out for a walk. Since my high school was 10 minutes away, I could usually get half an hour or so sitting down at Belhaven or more often on the Prom. There I would sit with my thoughts, listening to the calls of the birds and the waves crashing onto the shore. Some days I would even go as far as the Glebe, where I would sit on a rock overlooking where the old outdoor swimming pool was. I would think my thoughts, eat my pieces then head back to school.

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Some benches where I would sit and eat my pieces

The Prom was where I went because if I was going to be alone, I might as well be somewhere I liked, where being alone would be an advantage. Walking there inspired a lot of my early writing, when I would write poems, usually on school jotters and sitting by windows when I had usually finished my work.

When I was a kid, I would walk along the Prom and try to avoid the cracks in the pavement. It wasn’t out of superstition, it was more of a game, a compulsion rather than a rule and different days meant different patterns to be set. I was walking along the Prom the other day and thought back to that, with many of the same cracks still there and new ones being made with each passing footstep.

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Cracks on the pavement

Dunbar is a place where the imagination can run riot. When I used to live near Lochend Woods, I always wanted to write a story where fairies and mythical creatures lived there. It often had that other worldly feeling about it. The Prom isn’t a straight path; it winds around the cliffs where natural havens and inlets abound. Once upon a time, there would have been smuggling there and it can look like something out of Pirates of the Caribbean, if you discount the usually strong and cold wind and the frequent sound of ‘ken’ from the town’s people clearly carried by it. I often walked thinking of the world beyond, wondering how my life would be elsewhere. Once I was bored by the place, now it has become more interesting with time and distance.

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A right smuggler’s cove

On a good day, the Fife coastline is clearly visible, as is the Bass Rock, North Berwick Law and St. Baldred’s Cradle. Closer still are Belhaven Beach and the Lammermuir Hills. Knockenhair House sits high above, once the home of Sir Reginald Wingate, colonial administrator and British army general. The sight of Traprain Law usually makes me think of its status as a tribal capital at one time, the fields unfolding before it like some Royal garden. There are also sights of some of the rocky islets that dot the coastline, including one where the other day puffins and other seabirds stood sentinel on the jagged peaks that jutted just above the sea.

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North Berwick Law, the Bass Rock and Belhaven Bay
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Birds on a rock

I have a deep emotional connection with Dunbar, even while I no longer call it home. When I step onto the Prom, it feels like being in, to borrow W.B. Yeats’s words, ‘one dear perpetual place’ and I feel a rush of affection, memories and immediate impressions competing all at once with the wind and the sounds of birds and the waves. I make a point of walking there each and every time I am back, to touch base and remember the old life while appreciating and reflecting on the one I live now. I am usually there alone still but I never feel lonely.

Looking better

Spending time travelling on public transport invariably requires spending a fair bit more time waiting for whatever conveyance to actually arrive. Sometimes that can be pleasant, other times really not. More often than not, trains or buses running late simply delays getting home. I’ve had to kill time all across our land and I have almost become an expert at it. There are some places where you just know you’ll be there for a while, like Preston. I don’t think I’ve ever had a day trip to the north west of England that hasn’t involved spending longer than expected in Preston, invariably on a cold, dark night when I just want to go home. The last time I walked around the station at least twice. Another time I sat in the coffee shop reading a copy of the New York Times I had picked up earlier in the day in Manchester.

I have nothing against Preston or indeed Virgin Trains whose trains are often delayed passing through it. I don’t particularly mind sitting watching the world go by.

I’ve had long years of practice, at Waverley Station in Edinburgh. I often sat for ages at Waverley waiting for the train home to Dunbar, then a bit more limited than they are now. (Not by much, mind.) I used to love listening to the train announcements, feeling much calmer as I listened to the rhythm of the PA system billow forth with the announcement of the latest train to Perth or Glasgow Queen Street. And I watched the people, wondering just where the people were going, imagining back stories for folk as they passed. Sometimes I didn’t have to as people were sometimes drunk or just spraffing as they passed and I got a very full picture of how they found themselves there.

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Waverley Station
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Paisley Gilmour Street

Today I spend ever increasing amounts of time sitting on public transport or on stations. My new job leads me to spend time at Paisley Gilmour Street Station, on Platform 1 waiting for my train home at night. Gilmour Street is a Victorian station, all glass, red brick and tradition, and though I am often there on the way home, it gives me a slight tinge of excitement every time I’m there. Even at after 8 at night, the announcements of trains to Largs, Ardrossan, Gourock, Ayr and Wemyss Bay make me want to step aboard one of them, when I really should be going home. There are less workers that time of night, students occasionally, parents and kids going home, older couples out late, possibly after a jolly decent meal out.

The other night, I had just missed the train home from Central Station. I didn’t have so long to wait, only half an hour. I took a turn around WH Smith then walked slowly across to the far end of the station, looking slowly around me as I walked, taking the odd photograph and generally taking my time. I sat on the wall near the ticket barriers and watched folk pass by, people looking for their platform, others killing time, like I was. Some were out for the night while I was on my way home, my day over.

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Glasgow Central, from the wall

There are times when I don’t like to be invisible. For times like these, though, it’s essential and I am just another person in the crowd. That’s fine. It means I can look better at what’s happening around me, at the variety of people and things going on, at architecture and arched expressions. It’s the bit of me that’s a writer that comes out, looking subtly around and capturing little vignettes that might come out a few weeks, months or years later in some bit of prose. Stopping, especially when you’re compelled to, is when you see best and it becomes less like killing time but making the best of it.

St Andrews

Last week’s Adventure Week finished somewhat differently to what was planned. I ended up having a lie in on Friday morning and wasn’t able to head to Dunbar and back by the evening peak. I will hopefully try to get through there this weekend. Instead I went to St Andrews, spending only about an hour there. That was by intention rather than design as the 2.5 hour journey to St Andrews passes through some lovely countryside as well as two of Scotland’s New Towns, Cumbernauld and Glenrothes, which are less bonny, to say the least. It is a good journey just to sit and watch the world go by or to catch up on reading or, in Friday’s case, one’s iPlayer backlog. Thus it was that I was to be found crossing the Fife countryside watching a documentary about Pompeii presented in typically magnificent style by Mary Beard, combining enthusiasm with a good few decent one-liners.

The bus arrived in St Andrews about 10 minutes late due to roadworks in Guardbridge. I had swithered about heading home via Dundee though balked at paying £22 to travel 80 miles on the train. Instead I decided just to have a wander. I have a habit when in St Andrews to make a circuit, heading along South Street, past the Younger Hall to the Cathedral, Castle and back along the Scores. The Younger Hall is an attempt at Greco-Roman architecture that has just ended up looking like a pile of boxes all piled up or a mechanised comic book villain at repose. It in fact belongs to St Andrews University’s music department but just looks like the head office of Toytown City Council.

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Younger Hall. See what I mean?

I had planned to go to Dunbar just to be by the sea. Since I couldn’t do that, I stood by the Castle for a few minutes watching and listening to the waves, appreciating them as a multi-sensory experience. I felt the usual sense of calm as I touched base with the grey sea and looked across towards the Angus coast. I also watched a grey bird with a long body that I couldn’t identify, being shamefully ignorant of such things.

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I walked along to the Martyrs’ Monument and past Howard Place, a square surrounded by elegant town houses reminiscent of Edinburgh’s New Town, before going for the bus back to Glasgow. That was memorable by the decent share of characters sharing the X24 with me, including two huge, slightly stinky dugs (with entirely non-smelly owners, I should point out) plus several people having conversations I would rather have missed including someone having a loud argument on her mobile including unironically saying did the person she was speaking to really want their business shared to others on the bus. I couldn’t help hearing what they were saying and wondered why people couldn’t wait until they got home to have such sensitive discussions. It would be better all round. I plugged my music in, started to write and tried to tune out, with varying degrees of success.

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Howard Place

The bus arrived back in Glasgow just before 7 and I had about half an hour to walk back across town to Central for my train home. I stopped at the traffic crossing on Killermont Street, looking up at the massive Cineworld cinema  with its many floors of lights and escalators, before I sauntered down Buchanan Street, letting the city pass me by. It was busy, a Friday night, with folk going out or having been out for a while, as seen by the fair few scooped people about the place. I felt relaxed, unbothered by the rush of people around heading this way and that for once with more urgency than me. It doesn’t take much to see the world anew; as with all the other adventures of the week, it may setting out on foot or just looking another way, turning another corner.

Light

A few weeks ago, in the post An island light, I wrote a bit about lighthouses, having seen the lamp from the Eilean Glas lighthouse in the Science Museum. I grew up by the sea and became fascinated by lighthouses. Where I grew up in Dunbar, and where I lived latterly, had a view of two lighthouses. By day was Barns Ness lighthouse, built in 1902 and more recently decommissioned, not so far away on foot. By night, however, was St. Abbs Head, the light on a headland about 20 miles away. Walk around the clifftop a little way and then it’s the Bass Rock, seabird colony, once prison of Covenanters, the Isle of May, another seabird colony but shared with seals, and Fife Ness. Dunbar is where the Firth of Forth becomes the North Sea and consequently is, more often than not, baltic. If you don’t like looking at water, it isn’t the best place to be. Luckily I do.

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St. Abbs Head
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Isle of May

Lighthouses in Scotland and the Isle of Man are all automated now, controlled remotely from the Northern Lighthouse Board’s offices in George Street, Edinburgh. Randomly, it is right next to a branch of Hollister, the uber-trendy clothes shop, which has a lecky-guzzling screen in the window showing waves crashing onto a beach in California. Not entirely sure why. Anyway, if you are ever on George Street in our nation’s great capital, look up and you’ll see a model lighthouse with its light shining every few seconds. There are computers in there controlling lighthouses and buoys across the country, from the Bell Rock to North Ronaldsay, the Mull of Kintyre to the Mull of Galloway and many other places besides. That blows my mind a bit. Thinking of all these lights on clifftops and on islands all taking instruction from a little office in Edinburgh is remarkable. Only a few yards from the NLB, you can stand at the corner of Frederick Street and look right the way down through the north of Edinburgh and see the Firth of Forth and of course Fife beyond, watching ships as folk pass by oblivious. The statue of Pitt in the middle of the road, naturally, faces the other way, towards the Castle.

There is a great book I can recommend about working as a lighthouse keeper, which quite honestly is better than it sounds. It is called ‘Stargazing’ by Peter Hill, about a summer he spent in his youth as a relief keeper in some of the more isolated lights dotted around our coastline. For any Glaswegian readers, there is a copy at the Mitchell; for people in Dundee, there is a copy in Arthurstone Library, somewhere in the Hilltown in that shi not too bad city (though disappointingly not in Coldside, possibly the best library name I’ve encountered for a while); and those elsewhere can look themselves. Your library should be able to get one. I did have a copy but lent it to someone who hasn’t returned it. It was years ago, though, and I did buy it second-hand, possibly in Barter Books, Alnwick. (I’ll need to write about Alnwick and that fine establishment some time.)

Recommending a book brings up another thought about light. One of my libraries is a Carnegie library, in fact the last in Glasgow but the first to allow patrons to actually get their own books off the shelf. Many Carnegie libraries, including the Central Library in Edinburgh, Carnegie Library in Dunfermline and Jedburgh, have the words ‘Let There Be Light’ carved into the lintel at the entrance. Those in Glasgow that still exist as libraries are Dennistoun, Govanhill, Langside, Maryhill, Parkhead and Woodside, six of the city’s 33 public libraries. Looking at the list, a lot of the Carnegie libraries in Scotland are or were in some of the least recognised parts of the country (much like lighthouses), including Airdrie, Bo’ness, Burntisland, Coatbridge, Grangemouth and Motherwell, which is entirely appropriate as libraries bring light into the darkest places or act as a beacon in those with more going for them. Having just looked it up on Google Street View, Airdrie Library is a grand, imposing structure, looking much like a scaled-down version of the National Library in Edinburgh, though I am sure they do just as good a job inside.

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Govanhill Library
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Langside Library

I seem to have gone a bit further from lighthouses. Some time last summer, I spent a few hours in Arbroath, which is in sight of the Bell Rock lighthouse, ten miles out to sea. The Signal Tower, which was the home of the lighthouse keepers’ families, is now a museum run by Angus Council and is worth a visit, telling the story of the Bell Rock and its construction, designed by John Rennie (of Phantassie, near East Linton) and Robert Stevenson. Prior to the Bell Rock being constructed, a light would be lit in the window of the ruined Abbey just up hill to aid navigation. The Abbey was also where the Declaration of Arbroath was composed in 1320, thought to have inspired the US Declaration of Independence and of course countless Scottish nationalists, some of whom left the Stone of Scone there after it was liberated from Westminster Abbey in 1950. I prefer to think of it because of the light that once sat in the big round window. What the reflections must have looked like in the sunset against the red sandstone.

Lighthouses conjure up thoughts of dramatic waves and wide vistas. Even standing in George Street or in the Science Museum or the National Museum in Edinburgh, you can’t help being taken away to some windswept spot far off, watching the ships sail safely by. My nearest lighthouse is now Pladda, just off the bottom of Arran. It might not be so easy to be there any time soon. Instead next time I’m in Dunbar I might need take a longer walk along to Barns Ness, even if it is decommissioned, and look out and see what I can see, to St. Abbs Head, Torness and back towards the town. You can see it from the railway too, with best effect in the sunshine with a deep blue sea beyond. There is at least a wide vista, if not so dramatic waves, and despite being a mile or two from the town, it still feels isolated, far from anywhere, the white tower standing out and tall to be seen far out to sea.

Conversations

I like conversations. I would rather listen to people exchange ideas than hear an argument. I suspect civility has a lot of fans but being more polite and respectful keep that particular thought to themselves. Context is easier to establish with time. In a world where a story needs to be told on the news in thirty seconds or less, or be compressed into 140 characters or less, a conversation is that rare thing, a part of life that can’t be lengthened or shortened beyond its natural length as determined by both parties. I like talking to people. I have spent pretty much all of my working life being paid to talk to people. For a living. There are times I can’t shut up and times when I feel too timid to venture forth a thought. Listening, though, is a rare pleasure, especially when the focus of your attention is doing more than demanding it out of politeness, rather their words are the centre of the world. I am lucky that while I don’t know that many people, I know a few very interesting people who can hold a conversation.

In my working life so far, I have learned how to talk to people, something I have struggled with in some parts of my life for a long time. Sometimes I have to talk to groups of children and the best bit of the whole affair is when it becomes a conversation, when it is more than me blethering at them. The same happened when I used to work in museums and tours could end up talking about Northumberland or something other than what I was paid to talk about. And that was fine. A lot of people don’t want a finely packaged day, compartmentalised with each topic put in its place. Going a little off-topic makes things more interesting, more spontaneous. It is also where I feel most comfortable. I hate being too scripted. I may say things I prepare and I might say the same things a lot but not necessarily the same way, in the same words. I remember having job interviews where I felt tongue-tied because I was trying to keep to the script and ones when I left feeling energised because it had become a conversation and I came up with stuff that hadn’t been planned nor calculated to impress. (I don’t do calculated impressiveness. If it comes at all, it is invariably plucked from somewhere, usually thin air or some synapses in my brain just melding together to form some thought.)

I remember once being at an art launch. I was working at it and had been talking to one of the artists about his work, which involved wax printing, as I recall. One of my bosses (who I don’t work for now) came up to me and we got to talking about this work and the artist joined the conversation. Afterwards my boss came up to me and said I was really good in that situation. I was mortified because I was just doing my job, basically yakking to someone in a professional guise. I was having fun and getting paid for it.

Thinking about conversation was prompted by reading the autobiography of the comedian and talk-show host Craig Ferguson, whose show in America, The Late Late Show (now hosted by James Corden), was based on just having a blether with his guests rather than being too scripted and plastic. I have been watching clips of Craig Ferguson on YouTube the last week or so, after seeing him interviewing a good pal of his, Billy Connolly. It was just two guys having a chat but on the telly and it was far better, civilised and funny than anything else you would find on TV. Some of his interviews with actresses are very flirty but they genuinely seem like two people talking rather than just another PR-heavy interview, one of many.

I haven’t told anyone this before but if I ever became a broadcaster, I would present Desert Island Discs or some other show based primarily on an interview with a single person where you could get in-depth with them and talk about life, the universe and everything. Or if I could, I would adopt an idea I’ve heard about of a human library, where you gather some people in a room and you can borrow them briefly and just hear their story. I would love to do that but I am not sure how. People are endlessly interesting and have many hidden depths. Those are more interesting than the superficial shite that so often pervades our lives and discourse. It’s why obituaries are often the most interesting parts of the newspapers and why I often wonder why we don’t celebrate people more when they’re alive. If I have any spiritual belief at all, it is a faith in the power of humanity for good and to make life interesting.  Sometimes it’s hard. What would life be without a challenge? It can be a little easier, it should be easier for a lot of people to survive, let alone find some sort of contentment. But ultimately we succeed. And we need to hear different perspectives and stories from people who have seen parts of the world and experienced things not many others have. It’s why I work with the public and find each day interesting with them, even if there are days when it isn’t always rosy. There are always compensations when there are conversations to be had, though.

To try and encapsulate that, to finish, here’s a quote from the great Nan Shepherd, from Writer’s Court in Edinburgh. Read The Living Mountain, if you can. You’ll be glad you did.

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Adventure week: Day four

I kind of cheated for Adventure Week day four. I ended up having a lie in. My adventure was very brief and just involved walking to the bus stop a different way. When I got to Paisley, I walked along Forbes Place by the river instead of St. Mirren Street. It took 2 minutes but it was enough of a revelation that I saw the world a little differently. Paisley is an architectural hotchpotch, some 19th century Victorian buildings, mills, museum, library and the Town Hall, and some more 1960s stuff. Forbes Place is more of the former though I was more interested in the view along to a bridge, red with a crest on either side, and across to the Abbey, a place I still haven’t been to. Very often I am rushing past, heading home or to work, so I don’t look the right way. I’m glad I did today.

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Tomorrow I am going for a real life day trip, probably to Dunbar. I haven’t had a Friday off for weeks, two days off in the week for quite a while so I am looking forward to my day tomorrow, wherever I end up.

 

Clydebank

The 757 sounds like an aeroplane, doesn’t it? It makes you think of a great big jumbo jet, going somewhere exotic. There is a Boeing 757 but I am talking about the 757 bus operated by McGill’s, running twice an hour from Paisley to Clydebank via half the bloody world. Before it even goes near the Erskine Bridge, the 757 goes near Ferguslie then to Glasgow Airport, getting a good tour round that, before Inchinnan and Erskine. Across the bridge it is pretty much a straight road but naturally the 757 goes a circuitous route about it, going to the A82 and down a Himalayan slope to Mountblow and Dalmuir before finally reaching Dumbarton Road and Clydebank bus station beyond. It takes an hour. McGill’s operate hundreds of services across the west of Scotland, many of them on shiny new buses. On the 757, however, they operate a rattly old bus and combined with a driver who thinks he is driving a rally car, it is quite an experience.

Just beyond the airport is a business park. To the left was a pond with possibly the best sign I’ve seen in a while. It read, in its entirety: ‘Danger: Aggressive Swan’. Not ‘Danger: Swan’ but ‘Aggressive Swan’. I could see two swans but they didn’t seem very aggressive, perhaps they were more passive-aggressive but that wouldn’t fit on the sign. Also nearby was the Rolls-Royce factory and the first metric house. Having looked the latter up, this was apparently a project by Renfrewshire County Council in the 1960s for its officers to build a house using only metric measurements. Inchinnan was probably the most interesting bit of the entire route. Erskine reminded me of suburban Aberdeen or possibly Cumbernauld or Livingston for its grey, concrete buildings and spiralling roads. It isn’t really a complement, I’m afraid.

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The old Bruce Street Baths

Clydebank is a place I know well. I used to work there. It is an interesting place, a collection of villages, really, forged together by shipbuilding and sewing machines. I was there to see two exhibitions, one at Clydebank Museum entitled ‘Invasion’, all about archaeology, Vikings and Romans, while the other in the Heritage Centre was about the Clydebank Blitz. The 75th anniversary was Sunday and Monday this week. Nicola Sturgeon went to the memorial on Sunday and laid a wreath. The basement of Clydebank Library was where the town council based themselves during the Blitz and it is now the Heritage Centre. Over a thousand people died over the two nights and only 7 buildings in the town were undamaged. The first thing in the exhibition was, randomly, a book about Nazism that was knocked off the shelf in the library by the Luftwaffe’s bombing. One of the many things I like about Clydebank is that they never forget their history and the exhibition reflected that superbly with a mixture of personal accounts, photographs and a more traditional exhibition text. I know the folk who work there so I got a wee shufty at the work room which was where the headquarters actually was those nights. Now it is a small room with lots of books and maps. With a little imagination, though, it was possible to imagine the reports coming in of damage and orders going out.

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Bomb-damaged books

Before that, I went to Clydebank Museum. I headed first for the Garden Gallery for the David Kirkwood art exhibition, which I liked. The Garden Gallery usually hosts artworks by local artists and in my experience, it can be a pretty mixed bag. David Kirkwood’s paintings of flowers were vivid, colourful and nice to look at. If you ever wondered what I think about in an art gallery, that’s pretty much it. ‘No’ bad. It’s all right. No’ bad.’ And repeat.

Invasion covered West Dunbartonshire up to 1000AD, from crannogs, duns and hill forts to the Romans and the Vikings. It did it very well, with a great range of objects, some on loan from the Hunterian while others came from WDC’s own collection, some I’ve even handled, all telling a compelling story.

I came home by way of Partick, where I had to get some messages, and boarded the bus home from there. Being a McGill’s bus, naturally it took a longer than necessary route, through the Tunnel, along Govan Road to the Southern, back along Govan Road, along Drive Road past Elder Park and on to Cardonald. I had ideas of a long walk tomorrow morning, possibly down to Govan to explore some architecture or down to the Renfrew Ferry. Or I might just have a lie in. We’ll see.

Perth

I left work yesterday afternoon not quite knowing how I would spend the afternoon. By the time I reached the city centre, I had a plan. If I had enough time I would go for the 13:41 train to Perth, if not the 13:45 to Edinburgh. I ran to Sainsbury’s, grabbed some lunch then got to platform 7 and jumped on the train, which was about to leave for Aberdeen by way of Perth. It was mobbed, only three carriages, so I sat at the door until the conductor came up and said there were some empty seats. I sat with my music on (Runrig, incidentally) and did some OU reading then some writing as the train coasted north through Perthshire. When the train left Stirling and the Castle and Stirling Bridge came into view, I sat back and felt more at ease, feeling some of the stresses just blow off me as the train went even further from Glasgow.

The last time I was there, I went for a quick walk before heading for Dundee. It used to be an once or twice a year kind of place but I went about three years without being there. The time before was in the summer one year when I went to Stanley Mills, a textiles mill right by the Tay, then to Branklyn Garden. I have nothing against Perth but other places kept going higher up on the list.

This time I walked along by the South Inch, a pleasant park quite like the Meadows in Edinburgh, with some fine spring flowers coming to bloom, towards the river Tay. The Tay is a strong, running river as it passes through Perth and walking by it is pleasant. There are poetic quotes and sculptures along the riverside, including these cute creatures along a railing entitled ‘Soutar’s Menagerie’ inspired by a poem by William Soutar called ‘Bairn Rhymes’.

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I walked along to Perth Museum and Art Gallery, which I hadn’t been to for a few years. Much of it has been refurbished since my last visit though the natural history gallery, which is about as old as I am, hasn’t. That’s a good thing as it is well done and engaging on wildlife and geology. There was an exhibition about Forteviot, a fascinating site in Perthshire that was occupied from the times of the Celts right on through the visit of the Romans and held by the Picts into the 10th century AD. It had been produced jointly with the Hunterian Museum and was a fine example of the content not being too dry while not talking up or down to anyone. I also liked a model of a Chinese pagoda as shown below.

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Not so far away was the Fergusson Gallery, showing off Perth and Kinross Council’s collection of paintings by Scottish Colourist artist JD Fergusson. The building used to be a waterworks, opened in 1832. Outside the building is one of Fergusson’s sculptures called ‘Torse de Femme’, showing a female torso in Fergusson’s slightly cubist style. This was particularly appropriate given that the Gallery was hosting an exhibition euphemistically entitled ‘Fergusson and the Female Form’, featuring some of Fergusson’s paintings of women not wearing many, or often any, clothes. Interestingly, though, the work I liked the most wasn’t by Fergusson at all, rather ‘Romance’, painted in 1927 by David Prophet Ramsay, which depicted a young woman lying naked on a sheet. Her arms were behind her back and she looked thoughtful, smiling gently but contentedly. It was subtle, an intimate moment rather than just being voyeuristic and painting a naked woman for the sake of it. I also liked a photograph from 1959, showing a model called Magnolia, standing outside in the sunshine wearing a white swimsuit. It inspired one of Fergusson’s last works, entitled ‘Two Nudes’. I like Fergusson’s work but subtle it certainly is not, with its bright colours and sharp tones.

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I walked through the town centre before heading for the train, noticing the great number of mountaineering and outdoors shops as well as a cafe attached to the Salvation Army shop entitled ‘3:16 Cafe’. I knew 3:16 referred to a Biblical verse from the Book of John though not what it referred to, only that it was a key passage from the Bible. (A quick Google search, to satisfy my curiosity, reveals the following: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’)

Perth is an old town, a city of course now, and it has a great history. There is evidence around, including St. John’s Kirk (pictured below), dating from the 15th century, as well as a monument marking the site of a Carthusian monastery founded by James I in 1428. What I like about Perth is that the history is all around and the old buildings are lived and worked in rather than being mere monuments to another time. I enjoyed being there, being able to look at some art and archaeology plus seeing different street signs and hearing different accents, one of the main benefits of going anywhere. It was spur-of-the-moment, the best kind of adventure, and hopefully I will be there again soon.

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As I said yesterday, this seems to be a whole week of adventures. I will post again soon with the story of today’s trip to Clydebank then about where I end up on Thursday morning and Friday. Stay tuned.