Looking up

As a sequel to last week’s post, Looking down, here is a post where we look up. Just as I often look down, more often now I am to be found looking up, at interesting architecture, the sky, birds or whatever else that passes by. Here are some things I have seen this year while looking up:

The Scottish Cup. Definitely worth looking up for.
The Famous Five Stand at Easter Road
A plane flying over
Hutchesons Hall
The Chapter House at York Minster



Following on from this morning’s post about the Glasgow Subway, I would like to write a little bit about a journey I took on the selfsame system last night. I should explain that I normally write blog posts when the mood takes me and publish them in sequence.

Yesterday I covered a lot of ground. I started working in one library, finished in another, then went to dinner with friends in East Kilbride before coming home in the early hours. From Elder, I walked down to Govan subway station to head into town. Govan sits on the outer reach of the Subway, which stretches around the city in a slightly sketchy circle. To get into the city centre, you can take either circle and be in the town in the same time more or less. I took the Inner Circle to St. Enoch, via Ibrox, Cessnock, Kinning Park, Shields Road, West Street and Bridge Street. What was interesting was that at Ibrox then Cessnock the platforms were exceptionally full of people clearly going out on the town, some of the men in Hawaiian shirts. At Ibrox, they didn’t board, which was quite a blessing, but at Cessnock and Kinning Park, some did. It was quickly apparent that they were out on a Subcrawl, which is a sort-of tradition for drinkers in our great city to have a small libation at the nearest hostelry to each Subway station, easier in the West End but much harder around Shields Road and Kinning Park, which are not anywhere near pubs.

I got to thinking about a day trip challenge I could set myself. I don’t drink much normally and a Subcrawl would be an idea of hell for me. Instead, I could do an Iain Sinclair-style above ground walk around the route the Subway takes, going to each of the fifteen stations in turn. It goes with a related idea I had recently to walk along Govan Road into the city centre, looking at the architecture en route. It’s three years next week since I moved here and I feel like some more Glasgow adventures. If it had been a nicer afternoon this afternoon, for example, I might have gone over to Holmwood House, a house designed by Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson in Cathcart, which I have wanted to see for ages and would have led me into the furthest reaches of the south side. Plus I like a walking adventure. Stay tuned.

The Subway

I wrote here recently about my first visit to Glasgow and going for a full circuit on the Subway. Every time I visited Glasgow on day trips, I invariably ended up on the Subway going to Kelvingrove or the old Transport Museum until I realised that they weren’t so far away on foot. It became a normal part of my day trips here and at one point it even became a normal part of my commute. It is just another form of transport and I don’t get massively excited about it any more. It is another option to get round the city and that’s it. Or it will be until July when it’s shut for a month for maintenance. You never know what you’ve got until it’s gone, to quote Joni Mitchell.

I have been to most of the stops at some point. My favourite is Hillhead, which has a stylised map of the area illustrated by Alasdair Gray on the wall of the ticket hall. I don’t like Gray’s work for the most part but I like that a lot. Another is Buchanan Street, where the escalator takes you up into the heart of the city. St. Enoch is cool too, with its new glass canopy in front of the old station building. SPT is spending millions poshing it all up and they are doing so very thoughtfully, with poetry on the walls of some stations and thankfully not doing away with the ornate old signs at Cessnock. Last to change will be the trains, which are cream on the walls with brown lino on the floor.

On the Subway, how ever many times I go on it, I always count the stops, always slightly paranoid about making sure I know how many until mine. Also I get slightly uncomfortable when it’s busy as the seats face each other and it means facing other people, which I find tremendously awkward so I invariably look up at the adverts or down at my feet. Looking up looks better, I think, as it means I appear less awkward. The sensory bit between stations is deafening but I know it isn’t so long until I’ll be off. I just concentrate on wherever I am going and that usually gets me through.

I have much the same experience on the London Underground though that is much more fraught since I don’t know the system as well and sometimes it is frightening and unpleasant, especially when you are much closer to other people than you really want to be, as in rush hour or the last time I was there when there were loads of folk heading to watch Arsenal in the Champions League. Thankfully rather than the maze of lines in London, Glasgow has an inner and outer circle. That’s it.

When I was in York recently, I had the great pleasure of visiting the National Railway Museum. They have an open museum store and I found some old station signs from the Subway, not quite laid out geographically but I think they can be excused that. The signs must have dated from pre-1977 when the Subway was modernised the last time since there were some different names. including Copland Road which is now called Ibrox and Merkland Street which is now Partick. I felt a very proud Glaswegian seeing my city represented in the NRM.

Some very sexy Subway signs there
Some more very sexy Subway signs


The Subway is also represented in the Riverside Museum here in Glasgow too. The old Museum at the Kelvin Hall had a recreated Glasgow street and the Riverside has one too, with an expanded section for the Subway complete with an old carriage and bygone marketing. I can’t help agreeing with one of the posters: ‘Coolest And Quickest Means of Travelling Is By The Subway’.

The Subway entrance
The old Subway map
Carriage interior




To keep up the ‘Always look on the bright side of life’ theme I seem to be adopting today, here is a contribution to the weekly photo challenge, which is themed on partners, rather appropriately.

This photograph depicts two sheep statues on the High Street in Lockerbie, Dumfries and Galloway. They are part of a larger flock of five or six sheep that are permanently plonked outside the Town Hall as a reminder of the history of Lockerbie as a market town and the wider area’s agriculture that continues to this day. I was rather tickled by them and Lockerbie more generally – I was only there to catch a train home but I liked it. I couldn’t imagine living there but it was a pleasant enough place.




I occasionally like to share photographs and tonight I would like to share some photographs of what I remember to be an absolutely perishing afternoon in January 2011. A place I get to once or twice a year is Dysart, a small village just to the east of Kirkcaldy in Fife. I discovered it by chance one time the Art Gallery in Kirkcaldy was closed. Rather than just head back across the Forth home, I decided to go for a walk, hoping to find Ravenscraig Castle, which I knew to be a free Historic Scotland property in the vicinity. I found it (and it’s braw, incidentally – it sits on a clifftop looking across the Forth) and then looked around the coastline and realised there was a coastal path. So I decided to follow it a little way, transfixed by the view right the way across the Forth to Edinburgh, the Pentlands, Lammermuirs, Traprain, the Bass and North Berwick Law, all of East Lothian almost in one glance. After a little while, I reached a cave or at least a section of the path where it became a tunnel but it looked like a cave. At the other side was Dysart, with its 16th century buildings and old harbour. I sat there a while, thrilled with what I had found just by walking a bit further. I go back every so often and the last time was a baltic April afternoon last year. I am overdue a visit, especially after seeing these photographs. The one of the upturned boats reminded me of a generic painting you would see in IKEA or something Microsoft would have as a background but it was actually there, the light just the right way. Those posts of course grace the top of this page – they are painted to reflect the different colours of the sea – but I wanted to give them some context.


Looking across to East Lothian


Question time

Normally I steer clear of politics here but I can’t this morning. On this beautiful, sunny morning here in Glasgow, we are now facing thoroughly uncertain times. And there are more questions than answers. How badly will the markets react to the referendum result? (Horrifically so far and it isn’t even 9 in the morning.) Will this trigger Scottish independence? Will this make things worse in Northern Ireland? Will Boris Johnson be the next Prime Minister now David Cameron has left? And what merry hell will the Tory right do in Government now? But the world keeps on spinning, we have to persevere. By David Gray, we really will have to now.

I didn’t sleep too well. I avoided the results and instead checked social media when I stirred again. Now I’m wishing I had stayed asleep. There are a lot of people who voted to leave the EU yesterday for good reasons. They should not be demonised. Not everyone voted for good reasons, I’m sure. But the biggest problem of this campaign was the perception a lot of folk had is that it was a bunch of liars shouting over each other. Voting became a case of which lies do you believe. I voted to stay in because I believe there are more advantages of being part of the EU than disadvantages. That is despite the vast waste of money the EU institutions often are.

What happens now? Well, there are lots of views on that and lots of questions. The short answer is we don’t know. There are positives in the news this morning, however, so let’s start with those. According to BBC News, Colombia’s civil war is over, a solar plane has completed a crossing of the Atlantic Ocean and that’s about it. Oh, and Scotland and Northern Ireland voted decisively to remain. Good. All other news is bad. Donald Trump is coming to Scotland today to reopen Turnberry. And Chris Martin has taken to the Guardian to say that Coldplay ‘are saying the opposite of walls and Brexit’. Maybe so but it doesn’t stop you being pish.

The best thing I have seen today was a Tweet from the children’s writer and illustrator Alex T Smith, who said ‘Anyone with anxiety/panic attacks/depression, I’ve made a list of things for you to do today that might help’ then listed some comforting activities. I’m going to keep to at least one of them ‘Keep off social media’ and probably ‘Go for a walk’, even ‘Watch YouTube videos of otters eating’ since I have no idea what an otter eating would look like and I’m curious. Today I am going to spend my day reading Dickens and studying.

The thought I keep coming back to doesn’t help. It is ‘What the fuck?’ Getting angry doesn’t help, nor does wishing England get absolutely horsed in the next round of Euro 2016. (Wales too, actually, since they voted Leave too.) We just have to carry on. What’s the alternative?

Looking down

Being quite an awkward bugger means I often spend time looking down. That isn’t always a bad thing as you can see things that others don’t necessarily see. Here are some examples of why the only way isn’t always up.

A kelp forest
The beach
The Prom in Dunbar, with its cracks
The floor in the Mitchell Library
The Chapter House in York Minster
The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge
The early spring in Cambridge
The tunnel at Easter Road, leading the way onto the turf with the names of the Famous Five

Edwin Morgan

One of the best stories I’ve heard about the late Makar Edwin Morgan, from James McGonigal’s biography Beyond The Last Dragon, was that when part of his archive was opened at the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh, he wore a T-shirt that subtly made his point: Glasgow takes the biscuit. Edwin Morgan was a very Glaswegian poet and there is something about having his archive in Edinburgh that doesn’t seem right. (It is a fine collection, incidentally. The Scottish Poetry Library, whose motto is Patrick Geddes’s line ‘By leaves we leave’, is an excellent institution and their building, in the Canongate in the capital, is beautiful.)

I first became aware of Morgan’s work through another institution just down the road from the Poetry Library. Edwin Morgan was our Makar at the time the Scottish Parliament was opened in 2004 and he wrote a magnificent poem for the occasion, read by his successor Liz Lochhead. The poem was written to be read and Liz Lochhead’s expressive style carried it off with great aplomb. My abiding memory was when the immortal line

‘And perhaps above all the droopy mantra of ‘it wizny me’ is what they do not want’

was read out. The camera cut to the then Labour-Lib Dem Scottish Executive with knowing smirks on their faces. At the time, they put those particular words into practice quite often, albeit marginally more eloquently. This poem, though not always those particular words, have been quoted at several parliamentary occasions since, most recently in Nicola Sturgeon’s acceptance speech when she was re-elected as First Minister.

‘The City Chambers are hopping mad’

Anyway, I was struck by these words and ended up getting into Edwin Morgan’s work, as I still am. I think I have written here before about often being in George Square and thinking about the poem ‘The Starlings in George Square’ and the cables to Cairo getting fankled and all that stuff. When I was in Bridgeton recently, I thought about the poem ‘King Billy’ and the line about

the flutes

threw ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ to the winds

from unironic lips’.

In recalling a conversation I had earlier about Brutalist architecture, I am thinking about ‘The Second Life’ about the optimism around the time some of the buildings sprung up in Glasgow. Morgan himself captured what I think about poetry in ‘A View of Things’ when he said that ‘what I love about poetry is its ion engine’. There are just little lines that come up in different situations, mainly while here in Glasgow but it is often universal, as with ‘Aberdeen Train’. I have seen a few pheasants in fields in my time but rarely have I expressed it so thoughtfully as ‘a Chinese moment in the Mearns’, six words that you can unpack into many more.

One of Morgan’s more absurd poems is quoted in stone on the wall outside the Scottish Parliament. ‘Canedolia’ goes through a list of Scottish place-names that goes into sheer poetry without knowing quite how.


Just up the road at the Poetry Library, they have put the words that opened the Scottish Parliament on their door.


Not long ago, Jackie Kay became the third Makar. She is a very fine poet and I am a big fan of hers too. We have had three fine poets as our national poet so far, as well as Carol Ann Duffy as the UK’s poet laureate. Edwin Morgan was the first Makar and he’s definitely mine.


It was just as the bus hit the Broomielaw that I decided on Carlisle. I had vague notions of Stirling, Dundee even, but in the end the chance to go on a Virgin Pendolino won. Lunch was bought and I parked myself in a seat, just in time for a rabble of young folk heading to Manchester for the weekend to rock up. So earphones were donned though to be fair there were times when their music, the Stone Roses, Paolo Nutini and the Zutons so quite retro for folk who were younger than me, was better than mine. They were out and ready to have a good time, not really causing a bother to anyone though I was glad to get off all the same.

Carlisle is a place I visit maybe once a year. The last time was one afternoon last year, another day when it was a spur-of-the-moment thing, when I sat in the grounds of Tullie House for an hour with a book. It was too damp for that, sadly; by the time I walked upstairs at Tullie House, the rain was bouncing down. Before it did, I had time to walk about the gardens and sit a while underneath a tree. There was an intriguing photo exhibition around the gardens, featuring images of older LGBT people and what it’s like to be thus in a rural community. They were quite subtle and arty, black-and-white, and to be honest I’m not sure what I thought of the images themselves. If I didn’t know the subject, I would be none the wiser.


Tullie House is the art gallery and museum in Carlisle. It is run by a trust so they can get away with charging admission rather than letting folk in for free as most public museums do. Mm. Anyway, Tullie House has a hotchpotch of galleries about the local area and its history, some modern, others really not. There were some new galleries since my last visit, most notably a gallery about the Vikings, including a silver hoard found at Silverdale in 2011 that was in excellent condition, having required minimal cleaning in its journey from the ground to museum display. I also liked how the Viking gallery was displayed with a mixture of objects, text and interactives, pitched at just the right level to reach most audiences somewhere. The panels were well-written, including a paragraph that cheered the historian in me up immensely:

‘Most of the accounts that we have about the Vikings were written by people who were raided by them. These tend to reflect the Vikings’ warlike aspects. Archaeology can show a more rounded picture.’

I sat a little while later in the natural history gallery, laid out with old-fashioned dioramas of natural scenes around Cumbria. In recent months, I have learned from experience and tried to pace myself walking around museums so I don’t get overloaded. What I had never noticed before was how above the curved gallery was a dome which went light and dark at various intervals with sound effects for different times of day. It was probably about as old as I am but it wasn’t so dated that it was cheesy. I thought it showed imagination and added to the experience.


Later on, I walked around the display about the Border Reivers. Carlisle is a border city and along the border in centuries past bands of reivers pillaged and stole in raids across the frontier. Below the museum is an underpass that leads to the Castle. On the ground are the names of reiving families, leading to a stone bearing the words of a bitter diatribe written by the Bishop of Glasgow, Gavin Douglas, in 1526, denouncing the reivers in the bitterest terms. The part of the border nearest Carlisle was known as the Debatable Lands, not quite Scotland, not quite England, with no one nation’s law applying there. It’s a fascinating part of Scotland’s history and one I need to read into that bit more.

A muckle stane
Walkway with reivers’ names
Walkway wall

The border theme continued downstairs at Tullie House in the Roman galleries. Carlisle is not so far from Hadrian’s Wall, the frontier of the Roman empire built in 122 AD that stretched from the Solway Firth to Wallsend, just outside Newcastle, and Tullie House has partnered with the British Museum to produce a gallery all about it. Interestingly, though, it also features a stone from the Antonine Wall, which was a later addition that pretty much split the Scottish Central Belt for a couple of decades after 146 AD, and discussions of divided communities today from across the world, including in Palestine and Northern Ireland.

Before my train, I sat for a bit at the station. I like Carlisle because you can get a train far and wide, to Newcastle, Dumfries, Barrow-in-Furness or even London. I like sitting and watching, plus it is quite a nice station architecturally. At the moment, the station is all scaffolding though I could still sit and people-watch for a bit. Soon enough, the Pendolino came and I was back in Glasgow in an hour, feeling all the benefit of just sitting on a train for a bit. That there was some history involved only added to the adventure.

Carlisle Station


As part of the Weekly Photo Challenge, here are some photographs to do with Curves.


This is along the walls in York, not far from the Minster. The modern railing to the right kind of takes away from the medieval feel. Rather disappointingly, over these battlements is a retail park. I would fling cannonballs at that but that’s just me.


The second photograph is along the Prom in Dunbar. Behind the wall is Winterfield Park, which is where I learned to ride a bike and, much later, went running. In the centre of the photograph is the Winterfield Pavilion, which opened in 1925 and once hosted concerts and variety shindigs in the summer holidays. I only remember it closed up, though, and it is now in considerable disrepair.


Lastly, here is a photograph taken of the entrance to Bush House on the Strand in London. I can’t think of anything to say about that, to be honest – it’s just rather fine.

There will be another post a bit later on tonight about my trip yesterday afternoon to Carlisle, just after I have finished writing it.