The first time

A good few weeks ago, I stumbled across a TS Eliot quote and I have been meaning to write about it. It’s from Four Quartets, in fact ‘Little Gidding’, and reads:

‘We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time’.

When you read something for the first time, then read it again a while later, different references and resonances occur. I read it first and just liked it. Reading it again just now made me think of East Lothian and of reading Hugh MacDiarmid.

East Lothian is relatively straightforward to explain since I just finished writing the post ‘Tantallon’ that appears here in the next week. I have been thinking for a while that with distance I am building a whole new relationship with my home county. When you are from a place, and live within it, you tend to take it for granted and become blase. The resentments and chips on your shoulder tend to cloud your objectivity. I go to East Lothian and it isn’t home any more. Glasgow is. But East Lothian is familiar and it is a place I care about and is very much part of me however far I live from it. Each time I go back, I notice something different. I begin to see why people like it so much, visitors as much as incomers, and when I visit other places, it makes me feel lucky that where I grew up is so beautiful and full of history. When I go back, I know some parts of it almost as if anew, while others are too familiar ever to feel new. Luckily they feel comfortable like a pair of slippers, ready to be slipped into just whenever you like.

Created with Nokia Smart Cam

Just now, I was thinking about another place I know fairly well. It came to my attention earlier today when I was browsing Twitter and found a Tweet that had been Retweeted by an account called Crap Views.

Now, I actually know the Crap View in question. It’s in a part of Dumbarton called Dalreoch and I used to work up there. In fact, for a few months, I worked in a building across the road and so I got defensive. It isn’t Las Vegas but there are worse places to be. I walked past this place every day and without fail there was a cracking smell from the Chinese next door. It always made me hungry and invariably tempted me to get a Chinese when I got home. Anyway, in defence of Dalreoch, here are two photos of the cracking views from a couple of hundred yards up the hill:


That’s Ben Lomond in the centre of the photo

Anyway, I’ve got a bit sidetracked from TS Eliot. Reading the poem ‘Little Gidding’ reminded me of Hugh MacDiarmid’s ‘On a Raised Beach’ and particular its lines about how a bird flying high or a stone are wholly open to experience and appreciate the world without preconceptions:

‘The inward gates of a bird are always open. 

It does not know how to shut them.

That is the secret of the song, 

But whether any man’s is ajar is doubtful.

I look at these stones and know little about them,

But I know their gates are open too,

Always open, far longer open, than any bird’s can be.’

When we go out into the world, we automatically see it through the prism of what has come before. Can we truly approach something anew, especially a place we have once known so well? I hope we can. It might be a conscious decision just to let go and to see where life takes you, even for that moment, for that day. I think, however, that you can see new things in the familiar because often we don’t look and we miss so much. We just assume it is the same and it isn’t. It takes a new light or a change in circumstances or even a turn of the head to make us see. Our inward gates might be as open as a bird’s, or a stone’s, but we can at least keep them ajar amidst our explorings and maybe see the world continually anew, like a wave crashing to the shore, every one new and generated just before it falls to earth, before it all begins again.


I wrote the other day about thinking out loud. It stemmed from a quote from the comedian Susan Calman, which was ‘When you say things you are thinking out loud – again and again – it can get better.’ This was taken from a Tweet from the Edinburgh International Book Festival so it is amazing what you can do with 140 characters and not a hashtag in sight. I was thinking about it earlier this morning, watching back the Makar Jackie Kay’s appearance at the Book Festival, chaired by the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon. Try to catch it, if you can – it’s on the BBC iPlayer at the moment. I admire both of them in different ways so it was nice to see them in the same place and the mutual respect and admiration they have for each other. The last question from the audience was about the value of reading poetry aloud in schools, which Jackie Kay and the First Minister both agreed on.

A lot of poetry is best read aloud, just as a lot of speeches make little sense on paper but with the cadences and rhythms of speech can flow and flourish. A couple of weeks ago, I went to see Jackie Kay’s predecessor as Makar, Liz Lochhead, at the Book Festival purely because of her verve and timing as a performer of her work and indeed that of others, most notably the incredible rendition of Edwin Morgan’s poem ‘Open The Doors’ when the Scottish Parliament building at Holyrood was hanselled in 2004. After the event, which left me buzzing for hours, I went to buy her latest volume of poetry, which is called Fugitive Colours, at the Festival bookshop and the person selling me it was also a Liz Lochhead fan. She got a lot of drivel for her troubles as I gushed about how wonderful it was. I headed out to Musselburgh afterwards – the story told in another post here – and as I sat on the 44 bus, I read but I think reading the words in print was a poor substitute to hearing them spoken by Liz Lochhead herself just a few minutes before. I felt the same the last time I heard the Proclaimers live. I love the Proclaimers so, so very much but after hearing them live, a CD or digital download just wouldn’t do, particularly when it came to ‘Sunshine on Leith’. Some days need to pass before you can recover from being so thoroughly spoiled. And I picked up the book just now and read aloud, in my own voice, the opening poem, which is ‘Favourite Places’, a telling of treasured memories of trips to Lochaber with her late husband. I savoured every word as I spoke it, particularly those words that bring out the broad ‘r’, like ‘turn’, ‘unfurling’ or ‘gorse’. Her poems should be appreciated and savoured, swirling the sounds of the syllables about your mouth like a good malt, all about the experience in the moment.

Scottish Parliament

Jackie Kay talked about the different languages and accents she brought into her poem to hansel the current Scottish Parliament, ‘Threshold‘, and particularly the various accents of Scotland, from Doric to Glaswegian. That’s quite a spectrum in of itself. When I went to see the crime writer Quintin Jardine the other day, there was quite a spread. Jardine is from Motherwell originally though now lives in Gullane while the event was chaired by Brian Taylor, the BBC’s political editor, who is from Dundee. A lot of the folk in the audience asking questions were broad Edinburgh or East Lothian. There is a definite difference between the capital and East Lothian, even between parts of each. An accent from Dunbar is a bit broader and wilder than one from Musselburgh, for example, just as there are significant differences between, to pick one example, one end of the 5 bus route in the east of Edinburgh in Niddrie, Restalrig and Leith to the other in Bruntsfield and Morningside. Both are Scottish, both are of Edinburgh, but deeply different in terms of syntax, emphasis and much else. Interestingly, during the event, the conversation turned to football and Brian Taylor was talking about his team, Dundee United, who are coming back, or so he says. (It will need to be next year, Hibs need to be promoted first.) Anyway, he imitated two United fans who sat behind him in the George Fox Stand at Tannadice and his voice went much coarser and into very broad Dundonian. Thinking on it now, it reminds me of how accents are often polished and finessed in our broadcasting. Even now, you don’t hear anything like in Tom Leonard’s ‘Six O’Clock News’, which you really should read.

A symbol of Dundee

As ever, I digress. Before I go off the topic, though, I was in the bookshop at the Book Festival on Tuesday, killing time, when I walked past the stand where the various publications of Teckle Books, an independent publisher from Dundee, were stacked, including the excellent Taxi For Farrell by former Hibs defender David Farrell and Teckle’s first publication, the utterly brilliant and surreal Tartan Special One by Barry Phillips. For those who haven’t read it, Tartan Special One is very sweary and very Dundonian, much of it written in the dialect unique to that city. To my amazement, a very Edinburgh looking woman, possibly posh, nicely dressed, had the Tartan Special One in her hand, possibly intending to purchase it. I didn’t want to linger just to see how long it was before she put it back on the shelf, with the air of someone pushing away a kid’s full nappy or indeed otherwise. Just as there are books you want to read aloud to get their full effect, Tartan Special One is a book you can’t read in public. I did once, in Central Station here in Glasgow, and I had to put it away as I couldn’t stifle my laughter any longer.

I want to close with a thought back where I started, about the event with Jackie Kay and Nicola Sturgeon. This week, Nicola Sturgeon launched the First Minister’s Reading Challenge for primary school children. Anything that encourages reading is fine by me, I have to say, and whatever you say about the First Minister, she seems sincerely driven to make this programme work. It is personal, I think, and during the event with Jackie Kay, she talked a lot about being a big reader as a child. Since she became First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon has been involved with the Edinburgh International Book Festival both years and with Aye Write at the Mitchell too. She chaired Val McDermid last year and Jackie Kay this year. I like my politicians to be smart, to see they might pick up a book now and then. It isn’t always obvious in many cases. I don’t like Boris Johnson at all but at the very least, you can tell that he’s read a fair bit in his time. He might not have understood it very well but never mind. To their credit, Aye Write this year featured each of the Scottish political party leaders (it was just before the election) and talked to each of them about their favourite books. To understand people, it’s worth considering where they have come from, not necessarily geographically but intellectually, what they’ve read and what’s made an impact on them. What they underlined in their tattered copies or clutched to their chest as proof that someone else really does get it. Reading makes you big and strong, in more ways than one, if you read it aloud or you have to read it later for fear of exploding on a station platform.




Commonplace inbox

One of the things writers or prospective writers hear most is that you should always keep a notebook. I have two, at the very least. One is where I write my stories, the other is filled with bits of OU essays, draft blog posts, notes and other thoughts. It’s basically like a commonplace book, a little bit of everything that’s a part of me, my ideas and those of others that I happen to like. My e-mail inbox is also becoming another dumping ground for things I might want to get back to later, most often found on Twitter but some from news sites too, such as the article I saw earlier on the STV News app reviewing the latest book by Tam Dalyell, which is about devolution. The review was written by Bernard Ponsonby, STV’s political editor. The last couple of paragraphs are particularly insightful and tally with the views of Corbynistas, right wing headbangers as much as people like me who are neither one nor the other.

‘A final thought. When I look at Holyrood and Westminster I see massed armies of parliamentarians who would be out of place saying boo to a goose. The activists turned researchers turned elected members owe their position to the institution of party and it is to party that they look when they exercise their judgement. 

It is a dangerous trend that will allow governments to escape scrutiny and reduce important issues to the politics of the head count. Tam Dalyell’s career, as this book demonstrates, stands as an antidote to all that is wrong with the lobby fodder culture which threatens the very notion of holding government to account.’

No arguments here. As much as I disagree with Tam Dalyell on devolution, he was a pain in the arse for generations of leaders of all political shades and persistently argued for his causes whatever the political weather.

STV has been in the news this week about its digital editor Stephen Daisley, who, it is fair to say, isn’t a big fan of the SNP or indeed of Jeremy Corbyn. There have been allegations that the SNP have tried to get STV to shut Mr Daisley up. I read an article the other day about how Scottish politics is basically like being in a particularly boisterous playground and I think that applies to this situation. There is such a thing as an off switch or even on social media to unfollow, mute or block someone. We need a diversity of voices more than ever and just because you disagree with someone doesn’t mean you should do everything in your power to get them to shut up. Both sides in Scottish politics could do worse than remember that.

Another article in my inbox was from the Northern Echo, about an autistic woman called Ailsa who works at Beamish Museum in County Durham. I went there on my birthday a few years ago – it is utterly fabulous, about country life, transport and much else besides. The article is nice, talking about how Ailsa is able to do a great job at Beamish engaging with the public and even how she met her partner there. Some folk might consider that a bit sappy but I like a good news story. Life is full of difficulties and challenges. I like knowing that there are people who are succeeding despite those.

A fair bit of what’s below that is about autism, including an article by Steve Silberman, the author of Neurotribes. There are also a fair few snippets of some of the events at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, which I have been to a few times this year. Yesterday’s event involving the comedian Susan Calman, which sadly I couldn’t get to, was thankfully Tweeted by EIBF, including an observation about when people are genuinely interested in how you are and waiting for a response, ‘that’s beautiful’. Another thought that struck me was ‘When you say things you are thinking out loud – again and again – it can get better.’ Susan Calman was talking about living with a mental illness and I can see how vocalising some of one’s more irrational thoughts can make you realise their irrationality. In another context, I find voicing thoughts out loud incredibly useful while writing and forming ideas, just to ensure they make sense.

The Edinburgh International Book Festival Twitter feed was the source of another insight, this time from the Saudi Arabian novelist Raja’a Alem, which is:

When you gain distance, the things you love and the things you fear are minimised.’

I like that. I find that when I am travelling, it is easier to consider things in the round than when I’m at home. Most recently, I felt this on Sunday while walking at Belhaven. I managed to make sense of some thoughts about how my life might proceed professionally and personally in the next wee while. Dunbar is just shy of 80 miles from here but even when I lived there, the mile or so from my house to Belhaven was enough distance to let my thoughts go.

The quote is also about time, I think, and how you gain perspective after some time has elapsed. It reminds me of the Proclaimers song ‘Like Comedy’, which I have probably written about here before, which has the great line about ‘Give it a few more years and look from this angle / Where it looks more and more and more like comedy’. Most things for me essentially come around to the Proclaimers sooner than later.

The last message from my commonplace inbox was a quote shared by Faber and Faber, the publisher, from the poet Ted Hughes about how writing is about ‘trying to take fuller possession of the reality of your life’. This is a broader point that reminds me that today marks one year since I started this blog with a post about a memory of walking in John Muir Country Park near Dunbar. It was an experiment, a way to share my writing and it has become an important part of my life, an outlet and a way to communicate with a growing range of people as much as a fair few people I know too. Writing more has given me a different perspective on the world because some of the experiences I have had have been because I have needed to find words for them to describe here. Not all, by any means. Thankfully, I haven’t yet run out of things to write about and in the year ahead, I don’t intend to either.

The subject of my first post

A lot of the posts that will appear here in the next few weeks were written over various points in the last few months. Hopefully you won’t notice the difference. The reason is that I am quite busy in the next wee while so won’t be able to write much, sadly. Sunday’s post I wrote this morning and it’s about reading poetry aloud, while others in the next wee while will be about, variously, poetry, Tantallon Castle, loneliness, the river Tyne, drawing, interconnectedness, smiling, a signpost in the National Railway Museum, bricks and library date stamps. There will be more travelling type posts later on in September and October. In the meantime, thank you very much for reading and I hope you enjoy what comes next.

Dunbar blethers

I often come away from a walk at Belhaven with a whole new perspective on the world, ready to take it on. It’s one of the very few places I know, apart from maybe Durham Cathedral and the Edinburgh Botanics, which washes my spirit clean. So it proved today. I was wrestling with some thoughts. A half hour at Belhaven later and the thoughts were hogtied and I had some answers into the bargain. Belhaven is my favourite place on the planet and today it felt like the only place to be. With sun, waves, wind and dreamy clouds, it was just glorious. Good thinking weather. It was warm but the wind stopped the sweat. Paradise, my dear reader, is just off the A1 and past West Barns. Never mind 90210, EH42 is where it’s at. Well, some of the time.


I was actually in the east to go go the Edinburgh International Book Festival but as on other days, getting of the capital for the good of my sanity was imperative. There were hints of train delays so I headed up to Waterloo Place for the one-week-old East Coast Buses 107 service to Dunbar. First, who ran the buses in East Lothian, pulled out recently after failing to realise that running a shite service doesn’t make folk want to use it, so Lothian Buses have picked up the slack. It was fine, just nice to coast across East Lothian in the sunshine, under the Lammermuirs to Haddington then by Traprain to East Linton and finally Dunbar. Or rather Belhaven where I alighted, figuring that starting my walk at Belhaven then working my way in was the best use of my limited time. So it proved.

As I walked along the Prom, I noticed some big kites flying high above Winterfield Park. It turned out the shows were on. I gave them a bye since birdsong, waves and vistas good enough for me. I’ve been along the Prom in all weathers and indeed at all times of day but it’s only in the sunshine that you see the coastline at its best, all the way over to Fife, the light and colours at their most vivid as sailboats flutter on the Forth. Rather stupidly, the only camera I had with me was my phone but it got good use all the same. I came up with some posts for the blog and walks for when I’m next there. Today was only my second visit this year but another needs to come. My relationship with Dunbar is evolving, it seems, from a place I avoided but needed to be in occasionally to a place I like just on different terms, special terms I have with nowhere else.


I gave the High Street a complete bodyswerve and headed down the Vennel to the East Beach instead. I lived around the corner from there so the building smell of massed seaweed was instantly familiar. It’s cute in summer, not so much in winter. Between the Coastguard Cottages and Woodbush are wooden dividers, which I understand are called groynes. On them were paintings, which I quite liked. Apparently they were part of a street art trail that had been happening yesterday. I will have to look into that – I’m sorry I missed it. Before heading for the train, I stood at the bottom of Woodbush and watched the waves for a bit, looking towards the Old Harbour and just being there. Again, I’ve been there in all weathers but not so much lately. It was the right time to part, for now at least.




August Edinburgh

Our nation’s capital gets a lot of attention. It deserves it, it’s great. But August Edinburgh is mince. It’s hot, full of people and usually a lot of those people are brandishing leaflets or otherwise getting in the fuckin’ road. The only redeeming feature is the Book Festival. This year the EIBF programmers have done wonders and timetabled the authors I want to see at times I can go to see them. So far, I’ve been to see a mixture of authors I admire (Liz Lochhead, Hadley Freeman), one I just love (Stuart MacBride) and one event I went to see purely for the entertainment value (a discussion of the state of the Labour Party – that was one that needed popcorn). I’ve spent a few quid in the bookshop and my August Edinburgh experience, which is normally hell on wheels, has been quite benign. It’s helped I have a good knowledge of Edinburgh geography so know how to dodge most of the crowds plus I’ve spent more time in other places outside the capital that I also quite like.

A disco ball spotted while queuing to see Hadley Freeman at the Edinburgh International Book Festival earlier

Walking back to Waverley tonight, I was reminded, not for the first time, of the way the right light enhances and enriches the city. In September, I traditionally have at least one Edinburgh day, just to touch base with the capital after all the madness has been swept away. This year’s hit list has been expanding with every chance glance – Leith, the National Gallery, the National Library, Charlotte Square sans all the lovely books and bookish people. My thing this year has been looking up and I was at a crossing earlier just looking at the sphinxes and fixtures on the roof of the RSA. Even getting the snazzy corpy bus to Dunbar was on Waterloo Place by the pillars where you can look down to Calton Road and Leith Street. There’s a lot to do first – it will have to wait until mid-September after I have done my exam, impressed a few folk and just breathed through the rest – but it’s something to look forward to. August Edinburgh is always a reminder that September Edinburgh is just around the corner and that’s never bad.

The Royal Scottish Academy. Just look at that roof.

Interlude in Musselburgh

I hadn’t planned to write about Sunday’s trip to the Edinburgh International Book Festival – and I’m still not – but I would like to say a bit about what I did in the three-hour interlude between events.

I hate Edinburgh in August. It’s full of people and most often people trying to sell something. (Interestingly, though, I heard more Scottish voices than normal.) The only thing that makes it even tolerable is the Book Festival and that’s because there are good authors and an incredibly good bookshop. Between events, I wanted to escape and decided to head out of the city to Musselburgh. It would be a whole lot stressful to be there than almost anywhere decent in the capital.

I know Musselburgh well. It’s the biggest town in East Lothian, sitting on the river Esk. It’s fair to say that Musselburgh wouldn’t win many beauty contests but I’ve always liked it. The Esk is quite nice plus the walk by the Ash Lagoons affords great views over the Forth. It also has good places to eat, including the Coral Reef chippy, which I sampled on this visit.

This isn’t a restaurant review, honestly. I sat on a bench on the Promenade near Fisherrow Harbour with a full view over Edinburgh and across the Forth to Fife. In such a defiantly urban setting, it was great to hear the songs and cries of the seabirds, some gulls but also oystercatchers and others I’m not sure of, and I felt my heart-rate drop the little while I was there. Maybe it was hearing the voices of my ain folk, maybe it was even eating a chippy the right way with salt and sauce, but I felt undeniably better. Glasgow is home but a very big part of me is still from the east and it will always be thus. Perhaps that’s the answer to my own personal Edinburgh-Glasgow divide: I have the best of both worlds, by the way, ken.



Before I round off the posts about my recent trip to Northern Ireland and Dublin, I wanted to share some photographs of some of the street art I encountered while I was away. The first few photographs will be of Belfast city centre, particularly one mural painted in honour of Belfast Pride.


These are a little bit different, from Dublin this time, of street cable boxes. There are two, near Kildare Street and near the Four Courts, which is the Viking one.


Tomorrow night’s post will be all about an interlude between events at the Edinburgh Book Festival.

Dublin again

Where we left off the tale of the Dublin adventure, I was finishing lunch at the Chester Beatty Library. I was heading for Marsh’s Library, which I realised was not so far away, at the back of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. All I knew about it was that it was an old library but when I walked in and paid my €3 entry fee (roughly £2.60), I realised it was so much more than that. The library was founded in 1707, same year as the Treaty of Union between Scotland and England, and is full of old, leather-bound books. They are kept out of reach since some need special conditions but it’s none the worse for that. It was quite possibly the most peaceful library I’ve ever been in and that includes the reading room in Manchester a few weeks ago. Since it is the centenary of the 1916 rising, Marsh’s had a display about it, including some books damaged by bullets in the rising. There was also an exhibition of stories about the darker side of the library. Wonderfully, the library also features cages, where patrons were locked in as a sort of anti-theft device. I’ve known libraries where cages would be actively welcomed, I have to say. I just sat for a while in the still calm just thinking and enjoying the peace dropping slow.


I walked to the LUAS tram stop at Four Courts. The first tram was absolutely mobbed so I got the second, which was only slightly less busy. I was heading to Kilmainham, home of the Gaol where a lot of the leaders of the Easter rising were held then executed. Kilmainham is also where the Royal Hospital is, now home of the Irish Museum of Modern Art. Unfortunately the Gaol was full up, of visitors not prisoners, and the IMMA was closed. I walked in the grounds of the Royal Hospital, though, and when I sat on the grass, I noticed an obelisk somewhere in the distance. Being that kind of dude, I was curious as to what this was.

Wellington Monument, from Kilmainham
Sculpture in grounds of Irish Museum of Modern Art

As it turns out, it was a memorial to the Duke of Wellington, all the way in the Phoenix Park. I walked a little way in the park, intending on taking a look at the Áras an Uachtaráin, the official residence of the President of Ireland. Michael D. Higgins is my kind of head of state, purely because he’s a poet and he makes intellectual speeches about history whenever he’s here in Scotland. You don’t hear the Queen or Barack Obama or whoever doing that. Alas, I didn’t get to do that, purely because I was a bit knackered. The Park was busy with people at Dublin Zoo and just having a nice day in the sunshine. I enjoyed my walk but I was still knackered.

Before I headed back to Belfast, I went to Eason’s, a bookshop/stationer on O’Connell Street. I still had some euros left so bought some papers to read on the bus back north plus a book of WB Yeats’s poems and a magazine called Humanism Ireland, which I sat and read while eating some fast food. I have a proud tradition of reading intellectual things while sitting in fast food places. When I used to do regular day trips on a Saturday, I would read the Guardian book review pages. Anyway, I walked back along to the Busaras and people-watched a bit before catching the 7pm bus back to Belfast, again in the sunshine. The sun was beginning to dip below the horizon near the border, which was rather lovely. The light as the bus crossed the Boyne was that twilight pastel yellow, casting a grey shadow over the fields and trees below. It was a nice end to the day, heading slowly northwards just watching the world go by.





Dublin: Larkin, Monet and chicken curry

I woke up at an agriculturally early hour on Monday to head for the bus to Dublin. As it was, after going to the shop to pick up snacks, I was an hour early arriving at Europa. After collecting my ticket for the 08:00 bus, I went for a walk around the city centre in the sunshine, particularly admiring Belfast City Hall. (More on that in a later post.)

If you weren’t actively looking for it, the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic isn’t obvious any more. There are road signs denoting that the Republic speed limits are in kilometres-per-hour and that’s about it. Plus there are more shops on the NI side selling fireworks (which are illegal in the Republic). Like in Belfast, though, many of the communities in NI fly flags on lampposts just to remind everyone of their allegiances. Much of the way south was marked by Union flags and the Ulster Banner (the one with the Red Hand of Ulster on it) while Newry is more Republican and had more Irish tricolours about the place. Where I was staying in Belfast was quite neutral and there were more rainbow flags than anything, due to Belfast Pride being on over the weekend. Randomly, Belfast had Pride the same time as Glasgow had an Orange walk, which is at least a sign of progress on one side.

After the EU referendum result, there have been a fair few concerns about whether border controls will reemerge between NI and the Republic. I was thinking about that going through Newry, which is only a couple of miles from the border. Theresa May, the new Prime Minister, has promised that there won’t be a return to a hard border but it is hard to see how they will avoid it if the Brexiteers’ promises to restrict immigration can be met. Northern Ireland, like Scotland, voted by a majority to Remain though the prospect of them joining the Republic is remote, to say the least. When I left Dublin, though, I wondered what my own citizenship will be when I visit next, whether as a citizen of an independent Scotland within the EU or of Britain outside the EU. We will have to wait and see.

Anyway, enough of the politics. Dublin is one of my favourite cities, the first place I ever went to on holiday myself and a place with excellent museums and galleries. For once, I didn’t have a big action plan for where to go. I had thought about going to Marsh’s Library and Kilmainham but I wasn’t sure how it would quite slot all together. I left Busaras and walked along to O’Connell Street, pausing for a moment by the statue of trade union leader Jim Larkin, who was involved in the 1913 Lockout. The statue features Big Jim with arms aloft as if inciting the people to rise up. When I was in Dublin a couple of years ago, the SIPTU trade union offices on Eden Quay were done up with comic strips all up the building about the events of 1913. On Monday, there were panels about the Irish Citizen Army, a group set up to protect locked-out workers from police brutality. I am a fan of using the media of drawings and comics to get messages across. The Ulster Museum had an exhibition about the First World War which did just that and the SIPTU building is always worth looking at. I am not sure how many Dublin commuters look up at it but it’s worthwhile all the same.

Jim Larkin statue on O’Connell Street, Dublin, with Spire of Dublin behind
SIPTU building
SIPTU building

I walked to Merrion Square, not far from the Oireachtas (Irish parliament) and the Natural History Museum, to pay my respects at the memorial to Dermot Morgan, who played Father Ted. There were two different people sitting under trees nearby, with one woman playing on a guitar when I walked by at first then reading the second time. The Dermot Morgan monument always makes me think of the immense power of humour to brighten the world up, even just a wee bit. Another thing that brightened my mood as I left was a floral tribute left by Irish members of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND).

Dermot Morgan memorial
CND floral assembly

Not so far away was the National Gallery of Ireland, which was mostly shut for refurbishment. The bit that was open featured some Irish and European art from the 19th century, including some Impressionists. My two favourite paintings were ‘Sunshade’ by William Leech, which features a woman in side profile holding up a green parasol, and ‘Argenteuil Basin with a Single Sailboat, 1874’ by Claude Monet, which features a sailboat on a body of water with some autumn trees. I love Monet because of how he renders water and clouds with simple but effective brushstrokes. I liked these two so much that I bought a card of one and a print of another, which sit beside me as I type this. The National Gallery of Ireland is in a modern building rather reminiscent of the Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh with lots of levels and white-washed walls. It’s always worth a look.

The art I liked, now on my wall

Before heading to the Chester Beatty Library for lunch, I stopped into the National Library of Ireland on Kildare Street. In the foyer was an exhibition about the leaders of the 1916 rising, including James Connelly born in the Cowgate in Edinburgh, as well as an interesting panel about the NLI staff who were involved in the rising, some of whom were executed for their part. As a library worker myself, I have to say you have to watch the quiet ones. What I was actually there to see was the permanent display about WB Yeats, which I’ve seen before, and sat a while in the opening display listening to some of his poems read by famous people, including my favourite poem, ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’, read by the man himself. ‘Peace dropping slow’ always feels far away from a bustling city but hearing the words takes me a lot closer in spirit.

Yeats exhibition at National Library of Ireland

This might need to be a two-part post. It was an incredibly rich full day so I will finish this account at lunchtime. One of my favourite places in Dublin is the Chester Beatty Library, which has an incredible collection of manuscripts and objects relating to religion, including Islam, Judaism, Buddhism and Christianity. I didn’t take that in this time but the priority was visiting possibly the best museum cafe in the land, which serves Middle Eastern cuisine. So, I had a chicken curry, which was absolutely marvellous, and thought about how to spend the rest of the day and how to get there.

View from the lunch table at the Chester Beatty Library

Stay tuned for part two of the Dublin adventure.

Trains and that

Sunday was a day when I had deliberately not planned much. Not that I am a Sabbatarian or anything, I always prefer Sunday to be a quieter day, partly because my other day off (Friday) tends to get monopolised a lot of the time. When I was away was no exception. I woke up, had breakfast, sat in the Botanic Gardens for a bit then spent a wonderful morning in the Ulster Museum as written about here.

After that, the day was up for grabs. I had thought about going on a road trip, possibly to Derry-Londonderry or maybe the Giant’s Causeway but realised that since I was going to be travelling to Dublin the next day then home the day after, it was probably worth not going so far. So, I went to Cultra instead, about 7 miles outside Belfast or as my friend put it, like going from Edinburgh to Prestonpans. To get there required using the Northern Ireland railway network, like most parts of transport run by Translink (state-owned, people), which I had never done before. I rocked up to Botanic Station and got a return for about £3.60 on a small strip of paper. None of this printed on orange and yellow card nonsense. I sat on the platform and watched the world go by then realised that the PA announcements for NI Railways, at least the stations, are done in a London accent, in fact by the same voice you hear in big stations in the UK. The rendering of words like Cultra and Bangor was hilarious. (In Scotland’s big railway stations, we have a Glaswegian voice whose pronunciation of Morpeth, in Northumberland, makes me cringe.) Anyway, I boarded a clean and snazzy train (where the announcements were done by the wonderful (and Belfast-born) Kathy Clugston, who is a continuity announcer on Radio 4. You should hear her do the Shipping Forecast) and headed out to Cultra.

Cultra houses the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum and I had hoped to do both. Unfortunately I only got there at 2pm and the woman at the ticket desk said I would only have time for one. Thinking on my feet, I said ‘Transport’, paid the admission fee and walked in. She was right. I was in the Transport Museum until shutting time. The first thing you see as you enter on a raised walkway is a massive train shed, full of trains. Trains! The train geek in me came out with my camera as I walked around the place, reading the panels and climbing onto some of the locomotives. It was excellent, really something else.


But that wasn’t all. The building was on three levels, starting with trains then working through buses and vans then finally cars. The second level was reached through an exhibition about the Titanic, though I gave that a bye since it’s kind of everywhere in Belfast. Buses and trams sat on an old street, which was pretty fabulous, as was the third level, which featured a Volkswagen Beetle (I was nearly born in one of those but that’s another story) and a DeLorean, known to most of the visitors as ‘the car out of Back to the Future‘, which still looks cool and space-age. This level also featured a recreated old mechanics’ garage, in 1920s style, which was full of details. I am not a car person but I thought it was very well done.

Old street
You can almost smell the oil and the fumes…
Marty McFly and the Doc just out of shot

Down the road a bit was one final building, which featured a gallimaufry of different bits, including racing cars, a cool traveller’s caravan and a set of sedan chairs, which in Belfast were used in the 19th century to convey folk to parties, shows at the feature and, get this, church. Those Ulster Protestants never fail to surprise you, just as the church near where I was staying, the Fisherwick Presbyterian, had no less than a Facebook page and an app. An app! 21st century living, right enough.

John Crossle’s Mark III Racing Car, made not so far away in Holywood, County Down

Even though I only saw the Transport bit of the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, I was thoroughly impressed. There was a great range of people cutting about, including tourists and local people complete with local accents, including one little boy who was getting a telling-off from his dad for telling the storyteller ‘I like boobies’. Child psychology right there.

I am sometimes guilty of comparing places to other places. That’s a natural part of thinking since it is often said that we learn by comparison and putting things in perspective as part of a wider picture. I expected the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum to be like Beamish, the vast open-air museum in County Durham, though really it was like itself, proudly showing off the history of the place and its collection, bringing up memories and capturing a bygone age. Plus it has a DeLorean so the future’s covered too.