Newhaven

When most people think of Edinburgh, they think of the Castle, the Royal Mile or the city centre more generally. I have been around the city for most of my life and I know full well that the best bits of the city are those places not everyone knows about, a little off the beaten track, not too far but just enough to see something good. Every so often, I see photographs of Newhaven Harbour, a small harbour in the north of the capital, just along from Ocean Terminal. The photos are usually from sunrise or sunset but with the long days just now, I’m not getting from my house in Glasgow to Edinburgh for sunrise or home after sunset. In all my years, I have passed Newhaven by but never been for a wander around, at least until yesterday.

I took the bus to Leith where I had lunch (details in yesterday’s post, It’s better to be single…) before walking along past Victoria Quay to Newhaven. It was cloudy and a little cool, a complete contrast from the gorgeous sunshine I had left in Glasgow. I didn’t care since I am one of those oddballs who prefers to be a little warm rather than absolutely roasting. Besides I could see some blue sky though at that point it was over the Forth and Fife. The harbour was full of yachts with one lone guy working on one. It was low tide so the harbour was all mud. But the smell of fish was present and correct, as were the sounds of seagulls, even above the noise from the busy road adjacent.

The harbour was like many others on the east coast, horseshoe-shaped with two piers at either side. On one was a lighthouse, probably built in 1837, an elegant white tower that is now defunct but remains a prominent landmark. A lighthouse is usually enough to make a place for me but it was a clear day and I could see across the Forth towards Kirkcaldy where tower blocks and houses could easily be made out and to Inchcolm Island too. I walked down the tidal defences to the shore line, looking out beyond the buoys to a flat Forth. I sat a while by the lighthouse, watching the clouds shift in just a few minutes, changing the day completely from cloudy to sunny and warm. I looked along the skyline, along the city to Granton and its gas tower towards the Forth Bridges, three of them now, then across to Fife. I sat for maybe twenty minutes, just gathering my thoughts, before heading away.

DSCN1357DSCN1353DSCN1342DSCN1348

I walked to Ocean Terminal, a shopping centre with the Royal Yacht Britannia attached. I know it well since it is usually a quieter place to shop than Edinburgh city centre. It is also noteworthy for the great views across the city from the front and across the Docks at the back. I went up to the back of the Shopping Centre to stand a few minutes looking out at the boats.

DSCN1360

After that, I decided to head back into town but as I so often do, I decided to take the long way round, via Queen Charlotte Street, Leith Links and Easter Road. As I came near to Leith police station, I happened to glance down Maritime Lane at a fine building at the other end. In one of those pleasing stumbling-upon moments, I found a neat piece of graffiti, which stated ‘the things I love are not at home’ with a loveheart below. I liked that a lot. While I love my home, I can’t help but agree. The things I love tend to be found when I am out in the world, sometimes far from home.

DSCN1365DSCN1367

The last time I had been in Leith Links was at the end of the Scottish Cup victory parade last weekend and I was among a fair few thousand people trying to get a glimpse of the hallowed trophy. This time, it was much quieter and I stood atop what has been christened Hanlon Hill. Pleasingly, one of the sounds around me was a kid from the local primary school. He was singing:

‘2-1 down, 3-2 up

David Gray has won the Cup’.

That’s good education right there. Numeracy and rhyming, with a fair bit of local pride chucked in.

IMG_0457
The view from Hanlon Hill
IMG_0458
The view from Hanlon Hill
Advertisements

It’s better to be single…

A while ago, I posted a photograph of one of my favourite spots in Leith, right by the Water of Leith in fact where there is a quotation involving the word ‘persevere’, a word that forms both the motto of the Port but also a mantra I hold very dear. I sat there earlier eating my lunch and took some photos of the other quotes around about it. The one about preferring being single to a married wife is thought-provoking. I wonder whether it is a feminist statement; it is certainly one that is quite fitting with the way society is now and how the expectations of relationships are changing. Being a Glaswegian means I can relate all too well to the rain being everywhere too.

IMG_0422IMG_0426IMG_0425IMG_0424IMG_0423IMG_0431

 

Glasgow

The first time I ever visited Glasgow was when I was 7 or 8. We went to the old Transport Museum in the Kelvin Hall then on the Subway for a full circuit. I visited every so often in the years that followed, sometimes for shopping, sometimes just to visit museums. When I ended up going on weekly day trips, Glasgow was a place I came to at least once a month. I always felt comfortable here and when we ended up moving, just under three years ago, it was far easier than it could have been because it was fairly familiar. It was a big adjustment from living by the sea to being in sight and sound of the motorway but it was in other ways too. There was a choice of everything, from takeaways to doctor’s surgeries, and it took a wee while to find my way.

Three years have passed and things are all right. There is a lot I desperately want to make happen but that’s what a lifetime is for. Glasgow is home and it’s not changing any time soon, thankfully. I love living here. This city is endlessly fascinating and with each passing week, I find out something new about it. And I find something new to love, like these things.

DSCN0509
My bit

IMAG1540
The bus stops and the whole transport system

DSCN0264
Cathkin Park, now one of three grounds where Hibs have won the Scottish Cup

DSCN0307
Queen’s Park

IMAG0617
Armadillo

IMAG1590
Mitchell Library
One of the nicest things about writing this blog is sharing some of the places I like. It has also spurred me on to visiting new ones. I have lived here three years and I am yet to scratch the surface. Top of the list is Holmwood House in Cathcart, designed by Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson. Then there’s Provand’s Lordship, the oldest house in the city. I haven’t been there. Nor indeed the Necropolis. I don’t particularly like cemeteries but ‘the city of the dead’ is one I have to see at some point. I have downloaded most of the city’s heritage trails onto my tablet and they will all be done eventually.

The day we moved, I was working in East Lothian. I left one house in the morning then went home to another at night. Over the months that followed, I had a split existence, spending part of the week here and part of the week working in East Lothian. Every Saturday, I finished work in Dunbar then went for the bus. A couple of hours later, as the bus hit the home straight and the city centre was in sight, I put on Etta James’s ‘At Last’, because I knew I was home and in the right place.

Glasgow has become more than my home. It is where I have been able to make incredible strides towards being the kind of person I want to be. I have been able to make friends and do some incredible things. And it isn’t over yet. I will be here for a long time. Not forever since I hanker for retiring by the sea but there’s a long time to go. That isn’t so bad.

Struck home

A few weeks ago, on the way back from St. Andrews, I read Love That Boy, a memoir by the US political journalist Ron Fournier about bringing up his son with Asperger’s. What makes that book different from many other similar books is that Fournier worked within the White House press corps and he took his son Tyler with him to learn about the Presidency and to learn about each other, to bond. The title comes from something that George W. Bush said to Fournier when he brought Tyler to the Oval Office and Tyler went off on a monologue.

Just now, I have been listening to a podcast called The Axe Files, presented by David Axelrod, a key political strategist to Barack Obama. (He also advised Ed Miliband during the 2015 general election.) In one episode, Axelrod interviews Ron Fournier, who said something that has struck home with me. I have reproduced it below:

‘The doctors would tell you that these young men with Asperger’s, with high functioning autism. They have another ten years after they hit 18 where they can still really develop, if you keep them out in the world and keep teaching them the skills that come naturally to most of the rest of us…They get lost socially and crawl within themselves. Depression is a big problem with them and isolation is a big problem with them because they are off on their own and the only thing they are strong at is academics. Not the social part of life.’

I often talk about living my teens now. Being out in the world and being taught these skills has made me the person I am today. The social part of life is something that I am getting stronger at. And I am still growing, at age 26, and I will continue to. Every day is an opportunity for growth. A lot of the life experiences people have by this age haven’t happened for me yet. Sometimes that can be frustrating. That’s putting it mildly. But they are happening, slowly but they are. I am impatient. I was speaking to someone earlier who bemoaned the fact that they are impatient. I am often told I am patient but it’s because I have had to be. To quote the Rolling Stones, you can’t always get what you want. But you get what you need.

Or to put it another way, you just need to persevere. It’s my strategy and it works.

DSCN1114
And things like this happen.

 

Shadows fall

I am a regular user of the social network Twitter. Each of this blog’s posts ends up on Twitter and I use it to find out information and, sometimes, to discover things I didn’t know before. Indeed sometimes I find out things I would rather not know or who is involved in superinjunctions and stuff. It can be an echo chamber if you only follow people you agree with or a hornet’s nest if you stray too far from the road by being contentious. I think people should be contentious though I think folk should also retain some humanity online. Not some, a lot. Anyway, I follow an account called East Lothian Loop (@lothianloop, if you want to find it), which shares news, photographs and thoughts about my native county. The other day the custodian of that account posted a photo of some people with their bicycles with the caption: ‘Bikes make the best shadows. I love shadows.’

I love shadows too. In my experience, the best casters of shadows are trains and trees. One of the best parts of the train journey from Glasgow to Edinburgh is crossing the viaduct at Newbridge, where the arches of the viaduct and the train make long shadows on the fields below. Another place where you often see this is near Markle in East Lothian. Markle is best known for a fishery and a level crossing though just before Markle as you are heading towards Dunbar, Berwick and Englandshire, the shadows across the fields are often amazing. It doesn’t matter what kind of train.

My recent visit to Crookston Castle was on a very sunny spring day and there were lots of shadows cast, by the trees, the castle and indeed by me. Here are some shadows falling:

DSCN0469DSCN0524DSCN0531DSCN0485DSCN0461DSCN0458

Incidentally, the title of this post is, like much of my life, inspired by a Proclaimers song, ‘Shadows Fall’, from the album ‘Notes and Rhymes’.

Bridge art

I subscribe to a blog called Critical Dispatches, which features, among other things, photographs of cool street art in London. I thoroughly recommend you check it out. Inspired by the regular posts that pop into my inbox, I took some photos of some street art discovered in Edinburgh while walking back from the Scottish Cup victory parade on Sunday. One of the ways you can leave Easter Road is by crossing over a bridge onto Bothwell Street and then Easter Road itself. The bridge, known officially as Crawford Bridge, was recently adorned in some murals. Check them out.

IMG_0386IMG_0377IMG_0378IMG_0379IMG_0380IMG_0381IMG_0383IMG_0382IMG_0384IMG_0385

 

Learning something new

I don’t really write about it here but as well as being a library assistant-about-town, blogger, supporter of the Scottish Cup-winning Hibernian Football Club (we haven’t won the big Cup since Saturday at 4.45) and occasional day tripper, I am also doing an Open University degree in history. At the moment, it is my aim to have it done before my 30th birthday, which is just shy of three years from now. It is one of the big four ambitions in my life, aside from getting a full-time, permanent job, having relationships and (recently achieved) seeing Hibs win the Scottish Cup. (No, I’m not over it yet.)

I started the degree in October 2010 and completed three modules or 150 credits before I decided to take a break from it in March 2013. Later that year, I moved through here to Glasgow and hoped to study full-time when I did. Didn’t happen but I still wanted to study. Last autumn, I was on the way home from Edinburgh after watching the aforementioned Scottish Cup winners when I got to thinking about studying again. Around that time, I had been on holiday to Cambridge, which no doubt helped things along. As the train neared Glasgow, I decided to do it and resolved to contact the Open University to see what my options were. As it turned out, my previous modules still counted towards a degree under new regulations and all I had to do was a first-level, multi-disciplinary module called Voices, texts and material cultures, which I started in January and am currently working on.

IMG_0103
Typical OU working position
IMAG1086
OU course books

A105, as it is known in OU parlance, has been interesting in terms of content but it has also been hairy trying to integrate studying into my life again. At the moment, I am actually ahead of the course calendar but that’s due to blitzing through this week’s work this evening.

In the olden days, when I had more free time, I used to go study in the Central Library in Edinburgh a couple of days a week. I don’t have the luxury of time any more but what I have learned lately is more about how I can make myself study and manage my time more effectively. This is all while avoiding being too harsh on myself, which can’t be bad, really. I spend a fair bit of my life travelling and OU materials can go on a tablet or a smartphone, plus a pen and a notebook aren’t exactly onerous to carry. I read a book recently where the writer spoke about not being able to write effectively without spending some time in her camper van in the wilds of Scotland. My equivalent tends to be buses and trains. Plus I have discovered being blinkered. This blog has helped in that, actually, as I can write creatively with distractions around me and I am translating that into studying. Also, I have a draft timetable to keep to if I need it.

Randomly, A105 is all about language right now. This week’s chapter is about how language is best used, with vocabulary, grammar and syntax as tools for the job at hand, utilised in whatever context for best effect. I have read tonight about Russian thinker Mikhail Bukhain, who wrote about how some people can communicate well in some situations but not in others and this is due to ‘the inability to command a repertoire of genres of social conversation’. As a person who is building up my own repertoire of genres of social conversation, it’s nice other folk are writing about it.

Every day is an opportunity for self-development. Knowing what makes you tick is crucial to achieving your aims. I have discovered that my brain, brilliant and fickle in equal measure, likes having different things going on. I can compartmentalise what I do quite well and that is helping with OU too, relying on it as an escape from the other parts of my life, even while it can sometimes be another pressure too. I can make it work and with the right tools, I can do that. Every day is an opportunity to learn something new, even if it is just how to learn at all.

Post 101: Talking

We have reached 100 posts here on the Walking Talking blog. The 100th post was of course last night with photos from the Cup Final so this is post 101, which is more of a binary number and thus more pleasing. I have been thinking for a while about how to mark this particular milestone. I briefly looked into recording a special podcast blog for the occasion but it was too difficult to make happen, unfortunately. Besides you really don’t need to listen to me droning on. At least with this you can skim read or click to another tab when I go off on one. Instead I would like to write a little about one of the words in this blog’s title: talking.

I like to talk. I don’t always do it very well. I sometimes talk too much and I often get tongue-tied, saying the wrong things or not enough at the crucial moment. What I say, and how I say it, depends on my audience. With my family, I am much less formal, speaking much more colloquially with far more swearing and liberal use of the word ‘ken’. At work, I am a bit more formal, speaking a bit slower and using a few more big words than I might do at home. My sense of humour is broadly the same, though I keep the darker stuff away from work, well, most of the time.

My accent also shifts a bit. I am far more Dunbar when I am at home though I have noticed my voice is slightly different when I am out and about. To my ear, I still sound quite east coast though I have noticed Glaswegian words and inflections in some of what I say. In my defence, I do my best to make sure I am understood. I have tried to slow down a bit in what I say and naturally in being around people from the west of Scotland all day, some of what they say seeps into my speech. There was someone at work last week who asked if I was English, which I really am not, and there have been people who have thought I am from Fife or worse still Aberdeen. My voice is a little higher when I am out in the world and it is there that it seems to be more Glaswegian while when it is deeper, it is more Dunbar. At least that’s what I think.

I wanted to share a story. Recently I made a colleague laugh by how I naturally rolled my r’s in talking about the title of the HG Wells book War of the Worlds. From me, ‘worlds’ has a whirl attached, which I suppose is appropriate given that the world is constantly rotating anyway. It makes me think of my favourite Proclaimers song, ‘Throw The R Away’:

‘But I wouldn’t know a single word to say

If I flattened all the vowels

And threw the ‘R’ away’.

Talking isn’t all I do with my voice these days. For work, I have been leading Bookbug sessions, which involve singing songs and nursery rhymes to an audience of little people and their parents. Thankfully they join in. That has turned out to be far less terrifying than first thought, as  I just focus on doing it and doing it well, less on the act of singing itself. Before I consigned my singing only to my bedroom or being in a football crowd, which is probably better for humanity.

How I speak invariably goes into my writing. I tend to write as I speak, particularly here, with some Scots expressions and syntax invariably coming in along the way. In the stories I write mainly as a release, I tend to write in standard English though there are some characters I write mainly in Scots, reflecting a broad accent perhaps or simply the mot juste. One character I love to write but hasn’t appeared for a while is written in very broad East Lothian Scots with phonetic spellings and lots of swearing. It makes me laugh, writing that way is a real pleasure and feels right for the situation. I couldn’t write here in broad Scots for the simple reason that I have been conditioned to express myself in standard English in a way that most folk would understand. So I add wee touches here and there instead.

Being natural is important to me. I have tried in my life to fit in though I have eventually discovered that being myself gets better results. In the 100 posts here, I have written many thousand words on a wide variety of subjects. Remarkably there are a few people who read what I write here regularly and even more remarkably it has been shared with a wider audience. Indeed an outcome of this blog has been my writing book reviews for the Glasgow Review of Books. Amusingly, I was sitting next to one of my more regular readers recently when they discovered I had posted something new while I had been with them that evening. The wonders of scheduling your posts.

The five most popular posts on the blog are wildly disparate. The most popular, published on 11th December 2015, was Being autistic in a museum, which was about how I experience museum visits. The next, published on 17th March, was Clydebank, I think because some of my ex-colleagues follow me on Twitter and found the blog. It was about my visit to the museum and Heritage Centre. The third, published on 26th February, was about my visit to Cambridge and covered various subjects including Taylor Swift and mojo. The post Autistic thoughts, published on 2nd February, was about what it’s like to be autistic while the fifth most popular was published only a week ago as I write this, Flaneur, which was linked to a WordPress weekly challenge and so got a wider readership that way. That post was based on a conversation with a colleague, coincidentally the one who suggested this blog in the first place. So you have them to thank/curse. I prefer to thank them as it has spurred me on to write and to connect with people in different ways.

I am a better writer than I am a talker. I am not a bad talker but I find I can say more with words written down or typed out. We all enter the world in different ways. Words are just how I do that and that’s not a bad way, really. In closing, I can do no better than to share a quote from the poet George Mackay Brown that neatly sums up how I feel about writing:

IMAG1113

Peace dropping slow

My favourite poem is ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’ by WB Yeats. In times of stress and overload, it’s tempting to think that ‘I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree’, that ‘I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow’ and that I will ‘live alone in the bee-loud glade’. I am yet to go to Innisfree, unfortunately, though I have been to some places that do the job almost as well. One is a particular part of Culzean Country Park where is a pond with lily pads on it while another is the Samye Ling Buddhist monastery which I visited with my dad on Sunday.

I had only been once before, about five years ago, with abiding memories of incense being on special offer in the shop, monks in robes swishing about the place, and a little island with wind chimes. Sadly the incense was off promotion and the wind chimes were missing but everything else was just as it was.

To be honest, I’m not religious. The closest I can get to defining what I believe is what the poet Norman MacCaig called ‘Zen Calvinism’. I am a fair bit Zen but also a whole lot of Scottish Presbyterian to balance it out. I am, however, deeply interested in religion and I like to go to religious places. I don’t think we should be picky about where our spirit soars. It can be at a church or a football ground, in a swimming pool or a mosque. It can be in the arms of the one one desires or sitting on the dock of a bay. Live and let live. Anyway, rant over. Samye Ling is great. I might not subscribe to the Buddhist way of things but I think there is enough common ground to make a visit there a real pleasure and for me to leave feeling properly chilled out for the first time in a while.

Samye Ling is near Eskdalemuir in Dumfries and Galloway. It is off a logging road in the middle of nowhere, basically. But a few few people go every year, for the day, a few weeks or for good. It is a collection of temples, shrines and monastic buildings but is far more than that. It is very hard to write about so instead I will share a few thoughts and some photographs. We sat for a bit in one of the temples. It was a stunning space, very bright and yellow. We sat on a cushion with our thoughts. Switching my brain off is not easy and so I decided to tune into the birdsong from outside, seeking some sort of mindfulness in concentrating on just one thing rather than a whole load all at once. It was just a few minutes but it was nice, something I need to do more, albeit not always in those particular surroundings.

DSCN1014DSCN1001DSCN1004

DSCN1013
I liked this one too. It’s like the hand is humanity giving nature a helping hand, which I suppose we have to with climate change
DSCN1025DSCN1023DSCN1036DSCN1027DSCN1038DSCN1042DSCN1040

As ever, there were a few funny moments. In the library were a great variety of books, not so many about Buddhism. I guessed these were donations from people who had stayed in the past. Among the volumes were books by Richard Hammond (yes, the one that was on Top Gear), How To Win Friends And Influence People by Dale Carnegie and no fewer than three by arch-atheist and the Big Dog himself, Richard Dawkins. Also there was a book entitled Buddhism for Sheep. In the gift shop were a selection of children’s books including one with the unbeatable title of Moody Cow Meditates, with the front cover showing a cow with its arms folded looking unhappy.

Later on, we went to Caerlaverock Castle, another very spiritual place for me but in a very different way. It is quite possibly the best castle in Scotland and it looks like it. It has a moat, tower, gatehouse, lodgings and a cracking selection of graffiti to boot. Again, rather than gushing forth about Caerlaverock, here’s some photos.

DSCN1058DSCN1065DSCN1074DSCN1095

After that, we journeyed to Dumfries for a chippy then to Lockerbie so I could get back to Glasgow on my favourite train, the Virgin Pendolino, which tilted its way back up the road. You can’t get much better.