For some reason, stories from my childhood and teenage years have been appearing in my writing in recent weeks. I’m not sure why. I am not so old that my anecdotes are vintage; most of them happened this millennium. When I was a kid, I went through different career choices. First, I wanted to run a pie shop then I wanted to be an architect. When I was in my teens that changed to being a Clerk at the Scottish Parliament, the people who keep MSPs right procedurally. (Don’t ask.) At the moment, I am thinking of lion taming.
I used to like drawing football stadiums. Usually my favourite was Easter Road Stadium (where else?), where I went every so often to watch the Hibs. Being all about the details, I often noticed more of the advertising hoardings and the architecture than what was going on on the park. (Occasionally now I wish that was the case.) At the time, the East Stand was a basic enclosure with bucket seats. Usually, because I was wee, I would stand on the seat in front to see what was happening. Most folk stood in the East then – it was the part of ER with the best songs and atmosphere. Indeed it was where I was one game when Hibs played Celtic and the person I was with (not naming names) spent much of the game screaming at a certain Celtic player who is now our manager. Anyway, I drew ER, sometimes as it was and what it could be with some imagination. I liked the look of big grounds like the Stade de France or the old Wembley that I had seen on TV and drew them, invariably with green seats.
Architecturally, most football grounds can be a bit soulless. Easter Road is modern now and it’s fine but it was built with breeze blocks. The old East Stand was cold but it had atmosphere; the new one, where I sit now, doesn’t so much, except perhaps during the biggest games. I don’t draw now, except the odd doodle, but stadium architecture still interests me. Hampden isn’t the best stadium even in Glasgow but there are bits of it that are all right. It just has a rubbish view, well, except on 21st May, when it was pretty glorious. I remember leaving the North Stand after the League Cup Final last season and there being a cool frosted glass effect on the wall by the staircase. One of the best things about going to Easter Road for an evening game is how the sunset makes silhouettes on the sides of the stands, probably not intended but these are the things you notice when the game is pish or when you’re a kid and your eyes just wander, ready to take it all home to draw.
Our post tonight comes from a First Class carriage on a Virgin train speeding through Northumberland. Being a cheap date, I’ve only taken a complementary orange juice and an apple when I could have sampled proper drink and something called vegetable tagine, which is apparently ‘spicy chickpea and butternut squash tagine, served with herb bulgur wheat’. Nope, not a clue what any of that is. I had my tea before I got on the train so fruit I’m quite content with.
I’m on the way back from Newcastle tonight, one of my favourite cities but not one I’ve been to for ages. Indeed I haven’t been since before this blog started fourteen months ago. I’ve been through it a few times – usually en route to Durham or York – but not stopped. Newcastle is unfortunately surrounded by places I quite like, including Tynemouth, Hadrian’s Wall and Durham, to name but three, so it ends up being a bolt-on to a day trip some place else. Not today.
Newcastle was a regular day trip destination when I lived in Dunbar, being just an hour down the line and usually cheap to get down and back. Glasgow is that bit further away but, strangely, has a bigger choice of trains to Tyneside than Dunbar plus at least two different ways to actually get there. Tonight’s journey home takes me along the most obvious route up the east coast to Edinburgh then across. I journeyed down this morning the other way, via Carlisle, which I’ve only done once before on a spur of the moment. Despite having been on a Virgin Pendolino on Monday en route to Liverpool, I’ve always liked the route from Glasgow to Carlisle with the hilly glens and twists and turns along the way. So, off I popped, leaving Glasgow at a civilised, mid-morning sort of hour. My reserved seat was on the right side of the train and I spent a fair bit of the journey gazing out of the autumn colour bright and varied against a grey day. I also had a good view towards the Solway Firth as the train crossed the border, the wind turbines high against the landscape, the coastline slightly raised as if to distinguish it more clearly from the grey sky and sea.
Carlisle is a town I know well. I had forty minutes to kill and managed a suitably unhealthy daytripping sort of lunch (sausage rolls from Greggs – indigestion on wheels) plus a decent wander through the main shopping street towards Tullie House, the castle and the cathedral. As I was walking past Marks and Spencers on the way up, there were two guys busking brass band-style, though just as I was past them, they stopped and started blethering. When I was heading back to the station, a good ten minutes later, they were still on a break and having a serious committee meeting, all thoughts of music seemingly abandoned.
Within a few minutes of leaving Carlisle, the whole world had changed. Before Wetheral I looked up to see a river flowing fast below. Between Carlisle and Newcastle is some quite rugged country, much of the line running close to Hadrian’s Wall, the Roman frontier that for a lot of its operational existence separated the Holy Roman Empire and the barbarians beyond. Again the autumn colours were prominent through the rain and the gloom. After Hexham the river Tyne came into view and pretty much stayed there until Newcastle. At one point I saw a heron stood, stooped, in the middle of the river while a few miles on were two anglers, rod, reel, waders, the whole production, no doubt having the time of their lives while not catching a single bloody thing. As so often the Proclaimers said it best:
‘The fishing doesn’t matter
The answer’s always aye
The best view of all is where the land meets the sky’.
I headed straight down to the quayside when I arrived in Newcastle, taking my usual route by the Castle Keep and down the stairs by the High Level Bridge. The many bridges of the Tyne never fail to raise my spirits regardless how many times I’m near them and regardless that today was grey. I stopped every few feet to appreciate the angles, the curve of the Tyne Bridge, dark green as the best things tend to be, the Sage concert hall across the water subtly worked to look like a pupa, and the Baltic arts centre tall, rectangular and stout. Despite the Tyne being dark and murky with the rain, it still reflected the buildings a little in that way that isn’t still but is aiming that way. I wandered across the Millennium Bridge to the Baltic, ignoring all the exhibitions, even the playground that covered one of the galleries, and made haste for the viewing gallery with its great views up the Tyne and across Newcastle city centre.
For those who aren’t familiar with Tyneside, it is served by a light rail system called the Tyne and Wear Metro, serving a great swathe of the area. Its stations are distinguished by a yellow square bearing a big, black letter ‘M’ for Metro, naturally enough. I mention the logo because some poor bugger was gallivanting on Northumberland Street in a yellow foam suit bearing the Metro logo, evidently promoting some marketing wheeze come up with by someone paid a lot more and certainly not ever likely to be in the costume themselves. In a week that has seen me confronted by a giant Felix the Cat and absurd British Rail-era signs saying that where I am walking isn’t a recognised right of way, that’s hard to beat. Newcastle University nearly beat it with a big sign announcing that one of their buildings was a ‘Culture Lab’, but that just made me shake my head and wonder just what in the name of David Gray the world was coming to.
The Great North Museum was eminently more sensible and impressive with it. The first thing you see when you walk in the door is a two-storey natural history display with elephants, tigers and lots of animals you don’t typically see in the hereabouts. As museums go, the Great North Museum is cracking with a great variety of collections, a lot of them appealing to bairns, which was just as well as it’s still half-term in England. As I was there longer, though, the families started heading home and I had more room to breathe. The World Cultures gallery was a hotchpotch of different artefacts from around the globe but arranged thematically rather than geographically, with Newcastle United strips next to gear from Kiribati and New Ireland. The Hadrian’s Wall and Iron Age galleries were worth a look, covering a lot of ground and doing it well, keeping a good mix of objects and text to carry most audiences, but for this audience the highlight ended up being the Ancient Greece gallery, which had some beautiful pottery and some informative interpretation. Ancient Greece isn’t normally my bag but it was today and next time I’m in the British Museum, I’m going to get down and dirty with the many rooms in that fine place dedicated to all things Hellenic.
It was beginning to get dark as I headed back towards the station. Not having been to Newcastle in a while meant there were a few places still to touch base with, including the statue of Cardinal Basil Hume which is just across the way from the station. Anyone who requests the theme of Match of the Day to be played at their funeral is all right by me. Having paid my respects to Baz, I also looked at one of my favourite pieces of pavement art, an etching of a bull by Thomas Bewick, recreated right there on the street. It beats dodging dog shit every day of the week.
Newcastle Central Station is one of the best to spend time in. Since in my time I’ve had to spend more time there than I would have liked, that’s just as well. Trains for Dunbar were every two hours and more often than not ran late. I had to sit there as often two or three trains stopped bound for Scotland but, naturally, not calling at Dunbar. Newcastle is a fine station with an elegant curved roof and a square frontage with pillars and clocks. I sat for a while tonight just peoplewatching, invisible and just watching and looking. Nearby were four uniformed men whose job title was ‘Travel Safe Officers’, a beast I hadn’t before encountered. Their raison d’etre seemed to be standing in a huddle having a committee meeting and answering the odd question from confused passers-by. They were, I think, pretend polis, glorified security guards, though there were actual polis cutting about too. Goodness knows.
Just about in Glasgow. It’s been a cracking day today, maybe not weather-wise but in details and geography, even more as the train crosses the city boundary and Central looms near. It won’t be so long until I’m in Newcastle again, I’m sure, as it was a great lift to be there today, under those bridges and in sight of strange Metro mascots.
I forgot to lift my tablet this morning. I only realised when I got on the train. It’s sitting where I left it, in the house, plugged into its charger, all the music, study matter, iPlayer programmes and books I had hoped to get through today just where I can’t get to them. The only reading material I possess for this two-hour journey are my own notebooks since I ended up not even getting a paper before I left Central. I’m well and truly trapped with my own mind this morning.
If I’m honest, I’m bothered less than I was. The sun’s just coming up and I have a window seat. Right now is my favourite part of the West Coast main line, between Motherwell and Lockerbie, and it’s misty with varying strengths every passing mile with hills and clouds peeking above the vapour. In between are power lines and now as we wend out of another pass, the fog is gone with trees, cottages and wind turbines to compete with the never-ceasing procession of vans, lorries and cars on the M74. Beattock Summit and the train moves on, the motorway left behind, if only for a minute, behind the trees nearly all turning golden as the autumn fools us that winter isn’t fast approaching.
When I travel, I’m normally plugged into my tablet, music in my ears and a screen before me, as I skim and scroll my way through another journey. I don’t object to this forced denial, at least not yet. There is tinny music coming from the guy across the aisle but it’s faint. There’s no one loud yet, no one I want to escape from. I have a notebook, a pen and a window to gaze out of. If I want, I can doze off or stare into space if I don’t want to shut my eyes. There’s often a reason why we do things unconsciously. We leave things behind and we moan or we curse. Invariably, though, there’s some hidden benefit and we see something we might have missed otherwise like country roads that one day I might want to walk down or mist rising in a valley whose hills peek above but don’t even loom ominously just now as another day begins.
This is one of those blog posts starting its life in dead tree format, scribbled into my notebook on the train home from the day trip concerned. It’s dark out the train window as the Pendolino wends through Lancashire on its way home to Weegieville. Unusually for me it’s done with a soundtrack only of train noise and chatter from the smattering of other passengers in the coach since, being an utter choob, I left my tablet in the house this morning (more about that in the post, ‘Another day begins’, which appears tomorrow night).
Liverpool is an easy day trip to put together. It has a fair few cracking museums and usually it’s a case of picking which of them I want to grace with my custom. I don’t tend to plan very much. This time I knew the Walter Art Gallery would be a decent bet since it’s the closest to Lime Street Station but everything else was up for grabs. The Maritime Museum was the only one I couldn’t be bothered with when I did my usual ten minutes’ research since their lead exhibition was about the Titanic. I avoided it when I was in Belfast earlier this year so it was natural to do the same in Liverpool.
To get to Liverpool from Glasgow requires a change of trains in Preston. Invariably breaking up the journey there makes it a fair bit cheaper plus I have to change trains there anyway so win-win. I had about half an hour to kill so made my usual dash out of the station to find an ATM to get English money then went in search of some reading material. I ended up getting a magazine (History Scotland, impressively, this far south of Carter Bar) and a paper. It’s a couple of years since I stopped buying the Guardian every day so I was dumbfounded to discover it’s now £2 a go. On a weekday. When I used to buy it, it was £2 on a Saturday. I know the Guardian is losing money like nobody’s business but £2 is absolutely shocking for a morning paper.
I was last in Liverpool in December last year but as the train drew closer it felt a lot less than that despite having been to a lot of other places in between times. It’s not a journey I know that well but at one point I was sure we passed somewhere called the World of Glass. It’s in St. Helens, which I realised when I saw the glass-fronted station there with the signs to alight here for the North West Transport Museum and the World of Glass.
Lime Street Station isn’t a station I know well either. Any time I’m ever there, I’m usually straight off the train and straight back on it later on. It has a fine glass frontage leading out onto steps with St. George’s Hall across the way plus the whole city centre stretching out before you. It’s also minutes away from Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool Central Library and the World Museum. The only place I know that’s more convenient for the train-travelling culture vulture is Kirkcaldy where the art gallery/museum/library building is mere seconds from the station there. It’s why, however, I tend to go for a walk when I get to Liverpool since I could easily spend the day barely 500 yards from the train station when there’s a whole great city to explore.
At Oxenholme now. Liverpool is one of my favourite cities architecturally. It’s often grand but it fits with its history as one of England’s great ports. The Museum of Liverpool tells its story well and it was probably the best museum visit I’ve had this year, except perhaps the Ulster Museum. It has a diverse range of exhibitions, including on politics, football, music and, appropriately given the Brexit-fuelled xenophobia kicking around this weather, Liverpool’s multicultural present as informed and instigated by its past. What I didn’t know was that many in Liverpool had supported the Confederate forces in the American Civil War due to the cotton trade. There were also probably two of the nicest museum accessibility touches I’ve encountered – a British Sign Language rendering of some of Liverpool’s best-known music hits and an audio description of the cityscape produced by Mencap that managed to be informative and useful for all audiences. Nearby to that was a display about the part Liverpudlians played in the 1916 rising in Ireland, mentioning the part Big Jim Larkin, a trade union leader born in Liverpool, played in the 1913 Lockout. Larkin’s statue adorns O’Connell Street in the heart of Dublin, arms aloft.
Thereafter I took a turn around the Albert Dock before heading back into the city centre. The World Museum was, like the Museum of Liverpool, absolutely hoaching with families due to it being half-term in Englandshire, so it was a bit of a sensory overload with all the noise that brings. I largely managed to dodge it by heading for the World Cultures gallery, which is one is usually one I have to skim through at the end of a long day when I can’t take much more. This time I took my time, working my way through the collections from each continent, as ever paying particular attention to the Buddhist, Mesoamerican, Oceanic and African sections. There was a codex in the Mesoamerican section, a rare one since a lot of them had been destroyed when the Spanish came, and it was beautiful, in essence a graphic novel or flipbook telling a story in pictures. There’s another one in the British Museum but it’s always a tight squeeze to get to see it, unlike the World Museum where they even have a seat right next to it.
After a quick sojourn in the stunning Picton Reading Room at the Central Library, I went the short distance to the Walker Art Gallery. There was a contemporary art installation on the mezzanine level which manifested itself in a huge blown-up version of Felix the Cat. Next to it was the best museum sign I’ve seen in a long while. ‘Visitor Notice’, it began. ‘No feeling the cat’.
The John Moores competition exhibition was all right with only a couple that weren’t abstract. What I like about the Walker is its British Art and French Impressionist collections, the latter featuring a work by Gustave Courbet of ‘Low Tide at Trouville’. On the caption next to it was an excerpt from a letter Courbet wrote home to his parents on the first time he encountered the sea:
‘We have at last seen the horizonless sea; how strange it is for a valley dweller. You feel as if you are carried away; you want to take and see the whole world’.
The British Art room featured two works side-by-side that showed spring but in two wildly different places, Eskbank in Dumfries and Galloway, not so many miles from where I am now on the approach to Carlisle, and St. John’s Wood in London. The landscape of Eskbank, by James McDonald Patrick, was hilly with a farm steading in a low glen while St. John’s Wood, by Dame Laura Knight, was from the perspective of the artist’s studio in a plush London suburb looking over a tennis court to chimneys and the smoke of London in the distance. It was an interesting curatorial decision to display these two together, as mentioned on the Knight painting’s label, but it shows the great diversity of our islands and the different ways the seasons manifest themselves in their different parts.
This leads me, sort of neatly, to a quote I saw in the Museum of Liverpool that tickled me but sums up just the kind of place Liverpool is. It came from Margaret Simey, a politician and community activist, and reads:
‘The magic of Liverpool is that it isn’t England’.
Even more neatly, where I am isn’t England either since the Pendolino has just crossed the border. Liverpool is sometimes referred to as the easternmost city of the United States due to its musical and mercantile past and I would go along with that. It’s like no other English city, except maybe one of the prettier quayside bits near Tower Bridge in London. Having been to both recently, I can say it’s like Belfast and Dublin in a lot of respects – architecturally in both cases, in particular due to the shiny new shopping centres that grace the centre of both Liverpool and Belfast. As an Anglophile myself, I’m only glad Liverpool is geographically if not culturally in England so I can go there occasionally within a few hours. Where it actually is, to be honest, is anyone’s guess.
A few months ago, I embarked on what I called Adventure Week, five days when I managed to fit five separate adventures into my working week – the posts that resulted appear here, here, here and here. This coming week sees me on annual leave. The last couple of times I had annual leave saw me away for a couple of days, in Cambridge and Northern Ireland respectively. This time that isn’t happening, mainly because I don’t feel like going away or at least that far. So, there will be a few day trips instead. I have two booked plus my spin to Dunfermline for the football yesterday. Tomorrow I will be going to Liverpool while on Wednesday it will be to Newcastle and Durham that I go. On the other days I will be dotting around Glasgow. I have to do domestic things plus go to the dentist and probably for a haircut too. In between all that I have a long list of places nearby that I want to see, quite a few of them for the first time like Paisley Abbey, Barshaw Park and Provan Hall.
Liverpool is a city I like. The last time I was there was in December last year, though I have stayed there twice. It is very like Glasgow in a lot of ways, in its architecture, history, fashion sense amongst many others. It also has a fair few museums and I will partake in at least one of them while I am there, most likely the Walker Art Gallery and the Merseyside Maritime Museum. The Maritime Museum I missed last time and even while it has an exhibition about the Titanic at the moment, which I would rather miss, it also has an intriguing exhibition about the Liverpool pilot boats and also the permanent section about the transatlantic slave trade, which tells an important and at times unsettling story that has often been overlooked in our island history.
Durham and I have a long history. It was the first place I went to on a day trip on my own and I like to be there at least twice a year. I am overdue a visit to Durham Cathedral, since last time there was a service on and I couldn’t park my backside on a pew for a good long think. Plus a walk by the Wear would do me just as much good.
On the way back home, I like to stop off in Newcastle, another city with great architecture and style. I have a particular circuit I like to take from the train station, down by the Castle Keep to the riverside along to the Millennium Bridge. From there I sometimes go to the Baltic across in Gateshead then back to Newcastle for a walk into Grainger Town and up Grey Street to the Monument. I will stop off for tea before I head for the train back to Glasgow. This time, though, that journey will be more comfortable since the cheapest ticket I could get was in first class and I couldn’t in good conscience insist on a standard fare.
Being on annual leave is an odd experience. It usually takes me a few days to unwind and get out of work mode. A good, long sigh the night I finish up usually helps too. I usually feel relief and a slight excitement as I contemplate what I have planned for this time off. This time I have a couple of day trips planned and the rest is up for grabs. I will of course post here with what I come up with.
My visit to Helensburgh the other day made me think about perhaps walking along the John Muir Way one day. I have covered a considerable length of it at one point or another, the greatest extent in East Lothian, but since the Way was extended in 2014, I have thought occasionally about doing it end-to-end. From Helensburgh to Dunbar is 134 miles and to do it would probably require a week or more to do it continuously, plus a few days more to get myself up to sufficient fitness. More likely will be doing it in bits, probably starting in Helensburgh since I live not so far from there, or at least closer than I do Dunbar. I would like to walk to Balloch at least – indeed I once set a story on that stretch leading up to Loch Lomond – then see where I get to after that.
It will be a project for next year now. It’s October and the nights are fair drawing in. Plus it’s getting colder too. I like to have a plan for future travels, even if they don’t always materialise. This year was supposed to be the year of islands but I have only been to one, Ireland. I find that sooner rather than later, my mad, wacky notions end up happening, though, so even if I don’t do the John Muir Way next year, it will happen at one point.
On the bench marking one end of the John Muir Way in Helensburgh is a quote from John Muir, naturally enough. It reads:
‘The sun shines not on us but in us’.
Like many of Muir’s words, it stands just fine on its own. The rest of the paragraph (from ‘Mountain Thoughts’, published eventually in 1938) neatly sums up just why the John Muir Way exists and what benefits it brings to those who walk it or in the hills:
‘The rivers flow not past, but through us, thrilling, tingling, vibrating every fiber and cell of the substance of our bodies, making them glide and sing. The trees wave and the flowers bloom in our bodies as well as our souls, and every bird song, wind song, and; tremendous storm song of the rocks in the heart of the mountains is our song, our very own, and sings our love.’
Going to Helensburgh came about because I happened to see an article from the Helensburgh Advertiser on Twitter on Friday morning. Nothing bad, a nice news story as reflects the neat, perjink place Helensburgh is, and I got to thinking about going up there to the Hill House. I had been there once before, quite a few years ago, and I was in a state of distress by the time I got there. You see, Helensburgh is built on a hill and the Hill House, naturally enough, is right at the top. Of Helensburgh’s two train stations, guess which one has the most trains? That’s right, the one at the bottom. Luckily, the Hill House is a nice place and I like architecture so it is worth the walk. It’s just as well because sherpas and oxygen were almost required.
Before I headed up to the Hill House, I decided to find the terminus of the John Muir Way, the long-distance footpath opened a few years back that stretches all the way across to Dunbar. I looked at a map only to find that it was about 3 feet away from where I was standing. That happens to me a little too often. Anyway, there was a bench identical to the one in the Glebe in Dunbar only this one was installed with someone with a sense of humour for it bore the words:
‘The sun shines not on us but in us’
Inevitably, it was raining at the time and I had a good long laugh as I surveyed the bench and looked towards a rather fine round artwork featuring some words placed around some footprints. The quote was another Muir quote, one of his most famous, in fact, ‘When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe’. It was handwritten, I think, closely imitating Muir’s own distinctive scrawl. A Scottish Water sub-station nearby also featured a mural, definitely not Muir’s work but showing Muir Glacier in Alaska, one of the lesser-known parts of Muir’s travels. Anything to spur folk on for the 134 mile walk across this great country to my hometown.
I walked to the end of the pier, enjoying the views across to Rosneath with a mountain peeking through the rain and the low cloud. The sun shone low on the Clyde as I looked across towards Greenock and Gourock. Helensburgh is where Scotland begins to get interesting with mountains, boats and far fewer trappings of urban life at points north and west. As a town, particularly at the waterfront, there is a certain faded grandeur about the place, which it has in common with a lot of the seaside towns that emerged in the Victorian period like Rothesay, Oban and Campbeltown. There is still a grandeur and there is a general air of money and comfort, as I saw as I walked up to the Hill House with the houses like castles, mostly with names, and the cars mostly jeeps, not many Ford Fiestas. I felt generally out of place as I walked, particularly as for much of the way there were no pavements. It is a fine place but it’s gey posh.
You know you are getting closer to the Hill House by the fine Charles Rennie Mackintosh-style lampposts that line Upper Colquhoun Street. I sat in the gardens for a few minutes to catch my breath and got a sense of altitude as I looked back down towards the Clyde. The Hill House was designed by Rennie Mackintosh for the Blackie family and it is a fine house, fitting in well with its surroundings as much as being nice inside. Mackintosh had a distinctive style and the Hill House is a good example of it, practical yet chic. Over a century after it was built, it still looks like something out of the Ideal Home magazine. At the top of the stairs was a painting by the Scottish Colourist JD Fergusson featuring a very genteel portrait of a lady in white. As would befit a family home, the portrait was quiet and understated and unlike a lot of Fergusson’s work, the subject’s top half was clothed. I also liked the library just as you go in the door and also Little Walter’s book cupboard upstairs, a wee cubby hole in the wee boy’s bedroom. That was a very nice touch that made the place much more homely.
I sat upstairs in a bay window for a bit writing up some notes and looked out over the gardens for a bit. When I stepped outside, I took a turn around the gardens, liberally sprinkled with fallen autumn leaves, before it started to rain again. It was getting heavier and heavier but luckily I had found a quiet shaded area, complete with a pond and two benches covered in moss and lichen. As I stood there, watching and listening to the rain, I felt unbelievably at peace. A line from an Edwin Morgan poem came to mind – ‘A Chinese moment in the Mearns’ – and until then I had no idea what it meant. Standing under a tree just then, I did. It was quite a moment and I could have been anywhere in the world but there I was in Helensburgh, in sight of the Clyde.
When the rain went off, I walked down to Helensburgh Upper station, thankfully closer to the Hill House, served less often then Helensburgh Central but with a more direct service back to Glasgow. On the way up to Helensburgh, it had been weird passing through West Dunbartonshire, where I worked for two years and hadn’t really been in since. It was particularly good to see Bowling Harbour again, with its abandoned boats rotting away, all too often the comforting sight and reminder of the sea I needed as I got used to my new reality. As I headed back to Glasgow this time, passing between Drumry and Drumchapel, I also had an unexpected good view towards the Gleniffer Braes, not so far from where I work now, funnily enough.
Sometimes on a Friday, I travel long distances and leave early in the morning; other times I have a lie in and don’t go so far. This Friday was because I fancied a lie in but still wanted to go out. I scrolled through Twitter at the right moment and I ended up in Helensburgh an hour or two later. As a day, it yielded far more than I expected. I was back in familiar surroundings and got a glimpse of another side of our country, in fact more than one side if you count the scenery. And all within an hour of the house.
For this week’s Photo Challenge, all about what is local, I wanted to post this. This is a photograph from the top of Crookston Castle, my local castle, towards my local area, Cardonald in the south west of Glasgow. (My house is in a dip so doesn’t actually appear in this photograph.) Cardonald’s where my home is and I wouldn’t change that. I’m near to the city and the countryside plus there’s a castle within a mile of my front door. I am not a native Glaswegian but this is my home and I rather like it anyway.
Our post tonight is inspired by Orkney Library and their wonderful Twitter feed. The other day they posted about a book that has recently come out, entitled Museum of You by Carys Bray. They asked ‘What object would best tell your story if there was a #MuseumOfYou and why?’ (This will be the first and only time a hashtag will appear here, incidentally. Life needs more than 140 characters and certainly it needs more than a clipped slogan with a hashtag in front. #gettae.)
If there was a museum of me, and hopefully there won’t be as there are more interesting people and things in the world, I would choose one of two things. It would either be the Prestongrange brick I acquired recently at Belhaven or a library date stamp.
Let’s start with the library date stamp. I happen to possess one, an old one where the date sequence ended about two or three years ago. I love stamping things. It is one of the very best parts of working in a library. Never mind the customer service or Bookbug or anything like that, it’s stamping books that gets me going. Even after years of working in a library, I feel utterly contented stamping. It is just so final, an expression of what little authority I have with a noise and an ink impression. So, a date stamp would represent the life I have now and my love of providing information which will hopefully continue to be my job in one form or another for a long time to come.
I have written about the Prestongrange brick recently so I won’t rehash what I wrote then. I’m not really a material person. The brick is more dear to me than a lot of things. I would rather have the memories it evokes as I look at it than this computer, for example, or lots of money or a diamond watch or a Lamborghini or whatever. I don’t have a lot of money or a diamond watch or a Lamborghini, incidentally. Neither would I want any of these things. I aspire to nothing more than to be happy. That’s all I want. Luckily I live a life that gives me a lot of fulfilment. One of the four things I wanted to happen before I die happened a few months ago. (Hibs won the Scottish Cup. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it much. It was a very quiet affair. You might not have heard about it.) It isn’t perfect but nothing is.
We are all curators of our own lives now, through social media where we can craft our image to the world on our Facebook walls or through our Tweets. They are a museum of us, a series of snapshots into our lives, our thoughts when in wild ecstasy we Retweeted everything to do with an event we were at or when we just felt like saying something, even if it was that we had run out of marmalade and found a spare one under a shoe or whatever, saving the day. Museums are about the minutiae of life too, though, as much about Empowerment Pants as the Rosetta Stone. I think we need a bit of both and not so much of our own lives in our museums as we go there to try and understand and connect with others, other cultures, other worlds, other times in history. Our stories are more than a single object, just as they are more than a hashtag or a status update. They are worth all the words we can get our hands on and just a bit of time to sit and listen.
My first thought when thinking about water just now was a poem by Roger McGough, which I believe appears on a fountain in Liverpool, with words along the lines of ‘water is energy water is scoosh water is splash’. That pretty much sums up how I could write about water. It is sanctuary, safety, essential for life and yet utterly dangerous if treated badly. It is conducive to thought and capable of whimsy too, with raindrops enducing people to dance along streets with umbrellas in films and music videos when most other folk would just scurry out of the road.
In thinking about water, I have chosen some photographs from recent trips that sum up the varying perspectives one can have of and on the sea.
These first two were taken the other week at Morrison’s Haven, near Prestonpans, and look towards Fife. The Forth was so clear in these but it’s almost like the darker grey shades of the land are seeping out into the water, especially as you look towards Inchkeith. There isn’t much colour around but that isn’t so bad as sometimes you can see things stand out just that bit more clearly.
This photo is pretty much the opposite, from the other side of the Forth and with much sharper colours in the sky and on the sea. Inchkeith also features, though that wasn’t my intention. This was taken at Ravenscraig Castle, near Kirkcaldy in Fife, looking towards Edinburgh with Arthur’s Seat sharply captured on the capital’s skyline. Where the middle distance joined the land in the last photos, this is where the sun hits this time, emphasising just why the Proclaimers sang ‘the best view of all is where the land meets the sky’.
This was taken later the same day, in Crail on the East Neuk of Fife. I liked this because of how the buildings and boats are reflected in the harbour. Sometimes, though, water reflects what we don’t intend or don’t notice right away, as seen by these poles, seemingly unconnected to anything but present in reflection in the middle of the harbour.
Last but not least, this is why a raised perspective over water is incredibly varied according to the day or the moment. This was taken on the Elizabethan walls that surround Berwick-upon-Tweed, just over the border into Northumberland. The sea, for me at least, is a supporting player allowing a better view into the distance to Lindisfarne to the left and Bamburgh Castle to the right, as well as to a swarm of birds circling above the Holy Island. Also, the scaffolding and the houses at the bottom remind us of domestic considerations and to wonder why the scaffolding is there.
I grew up by the sea and now live not so far from the river. Or a few rivers, really, even while most of us think of the great Clyde and dismiss the others. Water is essential for life, certainly for thought, and every day, every hour even, it shapes the moment while never changing its essence despite appearances.