York: To the glorious and unknown

At the moment I am on the train home from York, edging slowly past Prestonpans and Wallyford, soon arriving at Waverley. I have probably missed my connection to Glasgow so will have to wait for the next one, which will take longer and go via Bathgate and Airdrie. I’ll get home eventually. In the meantime, there’s a gorgeous sky tonight, orange and casting Leith into silhouette, the clouds rough brushstrokes and many colours being cast across the broad East Lothian sky. There’s gold and blue, dark blue clouds, white clouds, slate grey clouds, oranges and yellows in the sky, the hills purple, trees shorn of colour as silhouettes as the last of the light drains away.

This is probably the first day trip I’ve had in April with snow. I’ve had a day trip in March when I was able to wear shorts due to the unseasonal heat but snow right at the end of April is a new one on me. It was very snowy as the train passed through Lanarkshire this morning, at first dry then it started snowing again with a wee flurry. It was proper Christmas card snow, the kind that lines tree branches and is untouched by footprints. As the train got closer to Edinburgh, though, the snow turned to rain, which was largely as it continued as the train crossed the border. There appears to be some snow still on the Pentlands as the train home passes Murrayfield, incidentally. This morning the last snow I encountered was at Innerwick, near Dunbar, where it lay on the hills behind towards Johncleugh.

I was sat on the right on the train down, the wrong side if you want to see the sea, as I tend to. Being a generally awkward bugger has its drawbacks especially when there is the added complication of someone sitting in the way of the opposite window, especially if that someone is young and female. This happens more often than you would think and add to that a train guard getting in the road at the best bit, this morning as the train passed Belhaven Bay, then it only gets better. What little I saw of the sea was that it was slate grey, lighter near the horizon.

As the train neared York, the scenery got interesting again. There was an abandoned caravan near the edge of a wooded grove near Northallerton, which conjured up lots of ideas for stories. Not long before that, there were signs beside the railway, not one but two, marking that County Durham was that way and I was now entering Yorkshire. It reminded me of one of the Wallace and Gromit films where they can see the Yorkshire border from their house.

Those who know me will tell you I have few prejudices. I am generally averse only to Hearts fans and white people with dreadlocks. Dreads should be left to the Rastafarians. Anyway, as of today, I am now only against Hearts fans and that’s not changing. I was taking photos of the curved station roof at York when a young guy with dreadlocks very kindly pointed out a better place to get photos of the station.

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I love York. It is a historically fascinating place and it has good memories for me of many visits. This time I came armed with a copy of a travel guide called ‘The Snickelways of York’, directing the reader through what I would call the vennels and closes of York. I decided to go for a walk around the Walls first then go for a wander around from there. I had walked the Walls before and decided to walk anti-clockwise, ending up near the Minster. Some of the surroundings were nice, some a bit less so. There were lots of ducks near the Ouse and the court. What kind of ducks they were, please do let me know. Nearby there was an example of quite sympathetic modern architecture, blending in quite well with the court buildings and the Walls, which was a Wetherspoons, of all things. It was the kind of thing Prince Charles would approve of, I think, except I doubt he’ll be popping in for a Jagerbomb any time soon. Me agreeing with the Duke of Rothesay on architecture (or anything) is quite radical.

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The Snickelways of York with a cameo from my legs and my story notebook

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As the rain started, I was thankfully near the end of the Walls. I nipped across the river to the National Railway Museum. I call the NRM the most autistic place on earth, purely because a lot of the visitors seem to be fellow spectrum dwellers. For a lot of us, it’s like Disneyland but without the bright lights and sugar. I am not a train geek, really. I have a casual interest. But NRM is braw, though, with some great old signs, the open museum store where you can walk in the midst of objects (including old Glasgow Subway signs) and the Mallard as well as the Flying Scotsman that’s been in the news a lot recently because of its recent restoration. The best bit, though, is the NRM’s library, which is called…Search Engine. Class. I tried to get a selfie next to the sign but alas was unsuccessful.

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If these rules applied today, I would have a rap sheet as long as my arm.
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Museum Store
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Glasgow Subway signs
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Flying Scotsman

To York Minster and I got a student ticket, saving the princely sum of £1 on the standard punter price. It is a fine church but not my favourite in England: that is the mighty Durham Cathedral which I had passed earlier (and is free to get into, incidentally). I am a heathen but I like churches as places to think. Luckily the management at York Minster thinks the same – despite the construction work – with one of the clergymen standing up to invite visitors to take a moment in quiet contemplation. Evidently it was a regular thing and I think it should be expanded to the rest of the world too. I sat for a while in the Chapter House, possibly the nicest place in the whole city, with my thoughts and just absorbing the architecture.

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After tea, I headed for Museum Gardens, which has a bit of the City Walls in it, as well as the ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey. The Gardens went on forever with a mosaic showing an 18th century map of the local geology and then behind a wall there was an edible vegetable garden for the benefit of local folk. Yorkshire Museum is fine but it’s £7.50 to get in, gey steep when there’s real life history, for nowt, right outside the door. The Abbey ruins, coupled with the city buildings around, were more than enough for me. Sometimes just stepping out into the world is what you need, rather than just glancing at a screen or a museum’s exhibition panel.

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St. Mary’s Abbey

It’s dark now, the train’s just pulling into Airdrie. Thankfully there aren’t any bams floating about to disturb my happiness tonight. The last bit of tonight’s adventure is to make a tight connection, crossing town from Queen Street to Central at a rate of knots. Chronicling today’s day trip has reminded me of all the plans and tangents and discoveries of today, leading on, as a signpost in the NRM put it, to the glorious and unknown.

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Flaneur

You may have noticed that there haven’t been any posts here for a week or two. I decided to take a break from posting, partly because there’s been loads of posts recently but also so I could clear my head a bit and write afresh. Writing this blog was beginning to feel like a chore when I really love writing and I like sharing it. Writing because you have to isn’t fun and probably isn’t that fun to read in any case. That was why I took a break, to help find a way through the creative block that had emerged. Hopefully what will continue here will be better and more varied as a result.

In that spirit, then, I would like to write today about flaneuring. I was described recently as a ‘flaneur’, which is defined by Google at least as ‘a man who saunters around observing society’. I choose to take that as a complement. It was intended as such anyway. Let’s break that down a bit. I am a man, I think, though I hope there is a similar term for a female equivalent. Sauntering is one of my favourite past-times and indeed ‘saunter’ is one of my favourite words, being one John Muir uses a lot too. Never a bad thing in my book. Around is being about the place. No bother with that. Observing society is something I do a lot. I sometimes feel more of an observer than a participant in many aspects of life and it is largely where I feel comfortable. I spend a lot of my life trying to understand people and situations and observing is the best way to learn how to be in the world, for me anyway.

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John Muir Way

There will be a post on Wednesday offering some thoughts on a new book called Switched On by John Elder Robison. I will go into further detail on this in that post but I wanted to share something Robison was told by a neuroscientist he worked with. Robison taught himself how to be an engineer and car mechanic, being able to use his autistic brain to best effect in those areas. ‘You don’t necessarily know what to do in social situations by instinct, but you can teach yourself by reasoning and practice and it’s worked’ (Switched On, p. 184). That’s how it has happened for me so far and it has helped to be a flaneur in that process. Luckily I enjoy it. I am not a reluctant traveller by any means.

Our next post, which will follow soon, will be about my day trip today to York, another exercise in flaneuring. On Sunday, there will also be a post of photographs of the Merchant City, while really there for something else. Stay tuned.

 

 

Going Home

Just a wee bit of blog business before I start today. I won’t be posting anything new for the next week or two. The reason is basically because I am running low in material for new posts so will need to write some. Plus I have published so much recently that there have been some posts that have been overshadowed by the sheer volume of other posts. Please feel free, therefore, to read back into the archives. I can recommend, for example, ‘Looking better’, ‘Light’, ‘Conversations’ and ‘An island light’. Or of course the book review I wrote that was published a couple of weeks ago by the Glasgow Review of Books. The next new post will be following on from my visit to York, so during the last weekend of April. In the meantime, here’s a post called ‘Going Home’.

For years, I’ve listened just about every week to Desert Island Discs on Radio 4, where the guest offers the 8 musical choices (plus a luxury, book, copy of the Bible and the complete works of Shakespeare) that they would take to a desert island were they to be marooned in such a place. I listen usually for the guest rather than their musical choices as they can be mince at times. There are exceptions. I am a great fan of Wallace and Gromit and the creator, Nick Park, endeared himself even further when one of his choices was my own favourite song, ‘Sunshine on Leith’ by the Proclaimers. And there was another when the scientist Dr Dame Sue Ion, who chose a tune I hear just about every day in life, an orchestral version of the theme from the film Local Hero.

Local Hero itself is not a bad film, a comedy set in the midst of an oil deal in the far north of Scotland. It was filmed partly in Morar in Lochaber and in Pennan, a lovely village on the Moray Firth coast, two of the finest parts of our great country. The soundtrack was composed by Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits and the theme, which is called ‘Going Home’ runs over the closing credits.

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Pennan. The phone box is to the left, just out of shot.

When a song grabs me, I can listen to it over and over again. It can almost be a compulsion, like a mini obsession. At the moment it’s a Gaelic song called ‘Tillidh Mi’, in the version sung by Manran, though there have been many over the years. One was ‘Going Home’ and it came the first time I saw the film. It is a very rousing tune, with guitar sections and saxophone for good measure. I listened to it over and over again for weeks. I could probably still tell you the exact moment the tune starts on the DVD.

For years, I’ve listened to music on my way to work each day. It is partly out of habit now, though it used to be mainly motivational, getting over any nerves and low feelings on my commute. My playlist changes with each and every day though there are common themes. I have two jobs and each job has a start off song. They change every so often. The current choices are the very funny Proclaimers song ‘Spinning Around In The Air’ and ‘Everybody Wants To Rule The World’ by Tears For Fears. Over the years, they have differed from Twin Atlantic through Paolo Nutini, the Undertones, a fair few Proclaimers songs and for a very long time ‘Beautiful Sunday’ by Daniel Boone. Just before I reach the place, however, I always play ‘Going Home’ and then finally the theme from the Radio Clyde football show ‘Super Scoreboard’, which is incredibly pompous and gets me going. I have done this for years and ‘Going Home’ has never grated, never failing to build me up and make me feel ready to go. It’s how I know it’s time for work. On momentous days, I replace it with the orchestral version Sue Ion chose for Desert Island Discs, which is slower but more beautiful and atmospheric. It can’t be beat.

As an aside, ‘Beautiful Sunday’ was a random choice. Two days before I started an old job, I was watching a football game on BBC Alba, which featured Dundee United and someone else, possibly Kilmarnock. Anyway, Dundee United play ‘Beautiful Sunday’ over the PA at each game at Tannadice. It’s an earworm and it got into my head. (Incidentally, I heard it yesterday sung by the Dundee United fans at Hampden but tribalism prevented me from joining in, thankfully.) I chose it for my first playlist on the Monday and it became part of each day’s commute, complete with what I called the Alex Salmond dance. If you ever watch Alex Salmond making a speech, you will notice he nods his head in the direction of whomever he is arguing with to emphasise his point. He does this more than once. As you tend to get looks when you dance on a train, I adapted this to subtle jerks of the head this way and that. Thus it became the Alex Salmond dance though I have since noticed that Nicola Sturgeon does it too. ‘Beautiful Sunday’ is also the soundtrack to a rather complicated Scottish dance called the Slosh, as best demonstrated in an episode of Still Game called ‘Doacters’. Find it on YouTube.

Rainy walk

I am writing this post longhand on the way back from watching Hibs in Edinburgh. As of now, I am somewhere in the wilds of West Lothian, willing the train faster through the night and home to Glasgow. It’s been one of those nights. But I’ve had a good day, despite my team blowing it. I had a long walk in Edinburgh before the game, not overly bothered that it was raining for a large part of it. I live in Glasgow, after all – rain is a very regular occurrence in my city – plus I grew up in Dunbar, where even a summer’s day is invariably accompanied by a biting wind. There’s times you just have to get on with it.

I left Waverley and walked up the Mound, heading for the Meadows, intending to do a loop back into the city centre via Tollcross. That was pretty much what I did but with the usual diversions led with a whim. The Meadows is a place I know very well, one of my favourite places to be in the capital and a place I have done a lot of thinking in in my time. Sometimes you just need a long walk to sort your head out. When a museum or a day trip far afield is not within your reach, a city ramble is just what works. Despite nearly three years in Glasgow, Edinburgh is better for such a wander though I think I’ll need to explore and make some walks in Glasgow more regular. This walk tonight was unplanned and I just let one foot go before another and my mind wander with it. I didn’t come up with any great epiphanies but walks don’t always need them to make them worthwhile.

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A puddle in Middle Meadow Walk. I wasn’t kidding about the rain

From Tollcross I headed up Lothian Road, thinking back to nights spent in the various cinemas up there. Near the Filmhouse, I veered left across Festival Square, deciding to pass under the archway to Rutland Square, one of the nicer and quieter parts of the city centre, before crossing over the tram lines into the New Town. I soon passed the offices of the Open University, for whom I have spent much of today writing and thinking on an assignment, and gave the usual smile in the office’s direction. Not so long after I hit Queen Street and walked its full length, blending into the commuters even while I held back and did more standing and staring.

After breaking to gulp down some dinner, I walked down Dublin Street, the view down through the New Town to the Forth not so clear in the grey drizzle, and walked along Drummond Place and down to Canonmills. Soon I was passing Broughton Primary School, an old Victorian school where I learned to swim, randomly. Being an old Victorian school, even with the scaffolding it’s still holding together better than the far newer PFI schools elsewhere in the capital. Nearby was the only library building I know with turrets, McDonald Road Library. I have never been in, perhaps because the turrets will probably turn out to be for storage rather than as a quiet wee reading garret.

Rather than going all the way up Leith Walk, as I did last week, I took a diversion up Lorne Street, purely because the psychogeographer in me thought it looked interesting with another solid old school and a church next door. It was fine, reminding me of a walk last year in Woodlands in Glasgow, and felt like it would have not a bad community. It wasn’t so far from there to the ground, where it all went downhill, unfortunately.

Walking in the rain isn’t always to be encouraged. There are times when getting soaking just isn’t worth it just as there are days when a smirr is more than fine walking weather, just a cost of doing business. Today it is just what I needed, turning my head around and exercising my body along with it. I’m knackered now but it’s past 11 at night; it was happening anyway. Thinking back on it a few hours later, I often question whether a walk like this actually happened, the only residual trace the tired bones and joints. When I’m back to reality tomorrow, it will feel like another world but that’s the best bit of getting away: you can inhabit more than one.

Leith walk

The Hibs fixture schedule at the moment has a fair few midweek games, so I am able to go, even though they are in Edinburgh and I don’t get home until midnight despite work the next morning. What you do when you are insane. Anyway, as this post is published, I will be at Easter Road again, watching Hibs play Falkirk. Last Tuesday night, I headed to the capital to see Hibs beat Livingston 2-1, courtesy of goals from Anthony Stokes and an absolute screamer of a free kick from Martin Boyle (who Alan Stubbs needs to put in the team with the minimum of delay). It was a gorgeous night in the capital. I had headed through on the bus, which took nearly 2 hours due to the evening rush hour, but still had time to kill before heading to the ground. I went to a rather fine chippy on Leith Street to get a king rib supper, covered in salt and sauce, naturally, and ate it walking up Leith Walk. I wasn’t in any hurry, trying to avoid too much indigestion while just enjoying a city walk. I walked up the Walk right up to the Foot then turned right past the Tesco and back up Easter Road, soon ending up in Albion Road. I always like walking past what used to be called the Boundary Bar in Pilrig, which denotes the old border between Edinburgh and Leith, which was an independent burgh until 1920. Apparently there were different licensing laws at either side of the bar, which drinkers took full advantage of.

I also like traces of old shop signs and saw an interesting one above the wonderfully-named ‘Elvis Shakespeare’.

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For a change, I decided to sit in a different part of the ground than normal. Usually I sit right at the top of the East Stand, which affords a cracking view of the action (or otherwise, depending on the game). On Tuesday, I sat instead in the Famous Five Stand, otherwise known as the North Stand, and was rewarded by a great sunset with the resulting light cast across the ground. Right until the sun went down, I also got a great view of the summit of Arthur’s Seat, watching folk walk up and stand and stare, making sure I myself didn’t confuse them with the trig point that’s up there. There was of course a game to watch too.

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Easter Road. Arthur’s Seat is above the South Stand on the right
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Easter Road
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More Easter Road. I love the shadows of the Albion Road rooftops reflecting on the side of the stands.

Aberdeen

Occasionally here I write about maligned places, those locales that don’t have that much to shout about. Oftentimes they are the places I personally slag off and on Friday I went to one of them: Aberdeen. Scotland’s third city is a place I know well. I have a relative who lives up there and in visits to see them, I have explored much of the city. Indeed there is a running joke in our family about being dragged to visit the Maritime Museum. I visit Aberdeen about once a year and it’s usually enough, particularly when the Art Gallery is currently being refurbished. The Art Gallery, incidentally, is great with a great selection of Scottish Colourists and French Impressionists. It also has a scaled down version of Nathan Coley’s sculpture ‘There Will Be No Miracles Here’, which I think being one of those humanists should be put on the entry arch of the planet.

But the Art Gallery’s shut, reopening in late 2017. Some of its collections are being shown in Drum Castle, one of the National Trust for Scotland’s many Aberdeenshire properties and also one of the more interesting. That, however, is too far out of town to get to, sadly. It doesn’t leave that much to do. Luckily I am a resourceful person and filled an afternoon in Aberdonia no bother at all.

The train from Glasgow left from Central owing to the engineering works at Queen Street and took a diverted route through Lanarkshire before hitting Stirling, Perth, Dundee and all that on the way north. It passed through Mount Vernon, a suburb of Glasgow in the East End, which had an unusual tower just outside the station, and also took us through Coatbridge, passing the wonderful Summerlee industrial museum and the Airdrie Tyre Centre, in Coatbridge, and with a Reliant Robin plonked on top of a pillar outside. Surely a Reliant Robin, a three-wheeler suggests you need less tyres rather than more? Also, having a place called the Airdrie Tyre Centre in Coatbridge is a wee bit cheeky, given the often febrile nature of Monklands. At Stirling, near to the station was a building called the Engine Shed which I had heard about without registering precisely where it was. It is being developed by Historic Scotland to be a conservation centre. Also, in Stirling was possibly the best advertising poster I’ve seen recently, actually for the aforementioned Summerlee, with the slogan ‘It’s no’ auld, it’s vintage’. Class.

The journey from Glasgow to Aberdeen takes in no fewer than five of Scotland’s seven cities, with only Inverness and Edinburgh missed out unless Scotrail want to divert the train any further. If you don’t like cities, the rest of the journey is brilliant, through rolling fields and hillsides in Perthshire and on the edge of teetering cliffs in Angus and through Aberdeenshire. One of my favourite bits of the journey is just after coming out of Dundee, passing through Broughty Ferry with its Castle, passing close to the Tay as you survey the mouth of the estuary, Tentsmuir Forest and Barry Buddon. Beyond was Carnoustie, which had shows since it was the Easter holidays, and Arbroath which felt like something out of the 1950s with Pleasureland and kids on a small train waving to us on the big train. I’ve always liked passing through Montrose, the Basin at one side and the town on the other. Randomly, one of the catch-up programmes I watched on this journey was all about Montrose’s place in the Scottish Literary Renaissance in the 1920s and 30s, led amongst others by Christopher Murray Grieve, known to history as Hugh MacDiarmid, and James Leslie Mitchell, otherwise known as Lewis Grassic Gibbon whose Sunset Song magnificently captures the cadences and landscape of the Mearns which I soon passed through en route to Aberdeen.

I had a plan. I wanted to have a walk along the Beach Boulevard, down to Footdee, a pretty fishing village, and back to Union Street. That was precisely what I did, heading out of the station and through the docks. Randomly I passed Theatre Lane, in the midst of warehouses, and a temperature gauge which was definitely faulty. It said the right date but indicated that it was 12 degrees, which, to put it bluntly, was bollocks. Aberdeen rarely reaches that in high summer and it certainly wasnae on Friday. The walk along the Beach Boulevard was great. I stopped at very regular intervals to watch the waves and particularly how they seemed to climb up the tidal defences before clattering back down. There were folk still playing about on the beach and a fair few walkers too, competing with the shows and attractions across the way. Footdee, or Fittie as it is known in the Doric, is beautiful, a concentration of narrow lanes arranged in a concentric pattern. It’s a grid, basically. Being a Weegie, naturally I approve of this method of street design. It is also great with interesting gardens and architectural features throughout.

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Where I sat watching the waves
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The power of the sea, ladies and gentlemen
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Waves
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Footdee
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Footdee
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Footdee again. The plaques on the wall here state: (top) I.O.O.F.M.U. Hive of Industry Lodge: Approved Society For National Health Insurance; (bottom): Agency of the Union Assurance Society Limited

Union Street is a shopping street and I wasn’t bothered so I headed up past Marischal College, which used to be part of the University and is now the HQ of Aberdeen City Council. It is a granite fortress, one that could probably double for Gormenghast, and remarkably it has even been stone-cleaned, another very Glaswegian quality. It’s not the most fabulous building anywhere but it is strangely beguiling and worth looking at, just to make sure you are seeing things properly, especially when you notice the coats of arms above the doorway.

After this, I had an hour so walked down to the harbour, briefly tempted by the ferry for Orkney and Shetland, and the Maritime Museum. It had to be done. The displays about oil are a bit too much for me but luckily there are other things to see, including the very first exhibit you see as you walk up the stairs, a lens assembly from Rattray Head lighthouse. Rattray Head is on the shipping forecast each night, on the inshore waters bit ‘Rattray Head to Berwick-upon-Tweed’, and it is not so far from Aberdeen, near Peterhead. It being a bit of a lighthouse, naturally I spent the most time there and got a few photos while I was at it. There was also an exhibition of old toys and games, including characters from The Magic Roundabout, a programme I know well from my childhood waking up early and watching old-school cartoons that were clearly conceived by folk on the weed or worse, and toys of Big Bird (from Sesame Street) and Kermit the Frog. Given the Hibs result yesterday, I can only concur with Kermit: it’s not easy being green.

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Ferry to Orkney and Shetland. One day.
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Rattray Head lens assembly
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Magic Roundabout characters

So that was Aberdeen. It was all right, really. It is one of the many places I go to where I couldn’t ever see myself living but sometimes you need variety in your life. When I was walking to the Beach Boulevard, I came up with a list of things I like about Aberdeen. apart from the waves and Fittie, obviously. They included: Stuart MacBride’s novels, the fact you can get a direct bus to Glasgow, the regular train links to Glasgow and at least it’s near the sea. Good enough for me.

 

Brick

I have written here before about a place called Prestongrange, where I used to work. It used to be a brickworks, amongst many other things, and bricks are still to be found around the site and the former harbour across the road, Morrison’s Haven. For years, I have coveted a Prestongrange brick but it was only the other day when I finally acquired one.

I was walking on the beach in Dunbar, just under the Winterfield Golf Club. Amongst the shells, seaweed and, remarkably, sand were bits of brick, including some substantial clumps of brick washed up or more likely reduced from the tidal defences. Most older bricks bear a stamp with where it was made. Some were made at Whitehill, near Rosewell in Midlothian, while others, to my delight, were Prestongrange bricks, made 22 miles up the coast. This amused me greatly, given the parochial nature that Dunbar has and the disdain some people there have for Prestongrange, so I picked one up and plonked it in my backpack. I carried it all the way back to Glasgow and it sits now on my windowsill, as a reminder of my past working life as well as a link between where I grew up figuratively and literally.

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Brick, in situ
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Other bricks on the beach
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Looking out to the Bay
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Prestongrange

On the way back, I wondered what would happen if for any reason my bag got searched and a police officer found a large house brick in the front compartment. I also thought, as I so often do, about Father Ted, and Father Jack’s brief keeping of a brick as a pet. I love my brick.

In camera

Regular readers of this blog will note that most posts feature photographs of whatever I am writing about. This was based on a reader suggestion back in October. Lately I have been using a rather lovely Nikon digital camera I got for Christmas though some photographs have been captured on my not-particularly-fancy mobile phone. I have been thinking lately about how we perceive things. I am interested in looking around anyway though there can be an extra dimension when you are not only thinking about the place you are in but what angle might look good for a photograph or how could I spin this into a blog post.

My camera is quite fancy though I am yet to figure out how to get the most out of it. I have learned how to change the light settings and for the rest I am just muddling through. I have two books from the library (where else?) and I am trying vaguely to remember what I was taught when I was given a detailed tutorial in using an SLR for work a few years ago. (I was taking photographs of sewing machines. Don’t ask.) Apart from that, I am just pointing and shooting, taking my camera out when I see something and just going from there. One weekend, I plan to sit and concentrate on my camera but of course other things get in the way, life, wanting to sleep, studying and writing.

I don’t have the best short-term memory so a photograph is a good aide-memoire for those little details. Some photographs have prompted post ideas too, such as a post I would like to work on about walking on cracks in the pavement or the recent one about lighthouses. Then again some posts that have required illustration have led me to go out of my way to snap something, as on Good Friday when I used a half-hour in Edinburgh to go to Regent Road to take a photo of the Scottish Parliament for Friday’s post on elections.

When I am out somewhere, I invariably think about what could I write about this. I am currently working on a piece for my writing group that is much harder to write. These posts are relatively straight-forward to write. I can usually just have an idea and go with it for 500-900 words or thereabouts. The issue with the writing group piece is that it is fiction, which is much harder than writing about life. It is also geared to a theme. Even though I set the theme, it’s tricky. I have had two ideas so far that have gone absolutely nowhere. I write stories and have done so for years but they are my own characters and are by now very well-honed. (They’re not being published, though. Everyone needs to have their private stuff.) Writing something fresh to order isn’t easy. I’ll get there but it is tricky. There is a new theme once a month and the ones with photographs tend to be easier for me. A visual prompt seems to work best for me. If I have a comfort zone as a writer, it seems to be using my visual thinking skills to come up with something, rather than using a sentence of words.

We all experience the world in different ways. I prefer to observe through sight. It also suits my learning style. I have recently started studying again and find that those parts of my current OU course that involve music or listening to an audio track are much harder because it involves active concentration and picking out aural details that I just miss. If there is a transcript or subtitles, then I will use those because I read and pick out relevant details far more quickly from the words on the page or the screen than through the spoken voice. When I speak to people on the phone, particularly for work, I make written notes right away to ensure that I have captured the relevant details as my short-term memory will kick it away with minimal delay.

Writing is but another dimension of life, trying to capture thoughts in as few words as possible ready to fire onto the screen or the page, hoping that they will make some sort of sense. A photograph is valuable in showing in some small way what I am on about. It provides context, even if the reader can’t smell what I can smell at the time or hear the sounds around me as I click and shoot.

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Fisherrow Harbour. This wasn’t taken especially for the blog. I just like the photograph.

Being out in the world involves lots of layers. Some experiences can be overpowering in a sensory sense. There can be a lot of noise or a particular level of light. There can be a lot of people and knowing where to look and making sure I don’t bump into people or objects is a challenge. Writing and photographing gives me a focus and thankfully I have an outlet here to let it all out. This focus helps with life too, for it controls my inputs and outputs, placing a sort of band around my brain and keeping things under control. There are different layers to what we see and perceive in our day. It can be simple as our mood dictating how we see things or the weather in turn changing our mood. In trying to understand the world and live life, I try to keep my head from disappearing up my arse and keeping curious is key to that process. The world is interesting and it just helps to remember that sometimes.

Review

I’m not typically in the business of plugging things. But then again I’ve not had anything to shill for. I was asked recently to write a book review for the Glasgow Review of Books, about The Outrun by Amy Liptrot, published by Canongate. It’s a good book, incidentally, and I recommend it. I hadn’t written a book review since high school so it was a bit of a diversion in my writing but an enjoyable one. The review was posted today on the GRB website at http://glasgowreviewofbooks.com/. See what you think. While you’re there, there’s a really interesting article about Ukrainian literature that’s worth a look. There’s a cracking phrase in it about a book reading ‘as if it were written in three dimensional ink’.

York!

Big excitement this afternoon. I have written here before about how often the best bit of travelling is the planning. Well, in the space of the last hour or so, I’ve booked a day trip to York. I am quite suggestible in lots of respects and particularly when it comes to planning a jaunt some place. Into my inbox popped a missive from Virgin Trains East Coast, offering 30% off a trip on one of their trains since I haven’t used their online service in a while. The reason for that is I so rarely travel on their trains plus I tend to use the Scotrail app on my phone. Ideas were whirring around of where I could go on the Virgin Trains East Coast route, since the discount was only valid on their services, and I settled on York, a place I like beyond all reasonable measure. I looked at dates and I managed to get tickets there and back on Friday 29th April for just over £50, which isn’t too shabby. I have to get to Central for 6:50am, mind, since VTEC run exactly one service to and from Glasgow a day, but I can deal with that.

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Train interior. You get the idea.

I was last in York about a year ago. It could have been longer. (Having just checked my calendar, I see it was in fact 1st December 2014. I remember booking the tickets sitting on a train going somewhere else.) Anyway, I went to the Minster, Art Gallery and of course the National Railway Museum, the most autistic place on earth. I also had a decent walk through the city centre before heading home via the best train station anywhere, with its fine curved roof.

I’ve been to York many times. I was there on my 18th birthday. I remember being at the top of York Minster and my phone ringing. It was my then work who when I asked them where they thought I was guessed the Glebe (a park in Dunbar). Not even close. It was also where I was when I had to abandon a day trip due to illness, I think the only time I’ve ever done that in nearly nine years.

I tend to rock and roll when I do big day trips so I’ll do a little research and see where my mood takes me on the day. Of course the Railway Museum is top of the list. The Flying Scotsman is there this weather so I’ll have to go take a look. I am not a major train geek – I like NRM because it combines trains with a diverse collection and of course enlightened policies and practices. Plus I like the back bit where a lot of their objects are stored on shelves you can walk around, but that’s the museum person coming out in me.

In the meantime, I am going to be fairly well-travelled this month. I am off to Aberdeen on Friday (nothing exciting) and in Edinburgh a lot for football. This is the biggest day trip I’ve had in a few months so it is properly exciting. Plus it’s York, so it’s guaranteed to be great.