Raw

Most Saturdays, my football experience is confined to checking the scores on the BBC Sport website. Correction, one score, since only the fortunes of the Hibees matter in the great scheme of things. It is a blur of constantly-updating statistics, a team lineup and bar chart showing the ever-changing possession. As much as it is a crucial lifeline and link to where I would be if I wasn’t giving reading pleasure and sustenance to a (mostly) grateful public, it is absolutely no substitute to actually being at a game in the raw.

When I was a kid, if I wasn’t at a game, I would usually listen to the football on the radio. Usually Radio Scotland had the big game of the week on, with updates from the others. Occasionally Hibs had the honour of being top billing but usually the latest from Easter Road or Fir Park or whatever came as a 15-second update of the scorer and the lead-up play in between the very much more detailed commentary of whichever of the Old Firm was playing. To get the scoop usually involved going up to Knox’s newsagent about 7pm to buy the Pink, the late edition of the Evening News invariably fresh from the printers and the 30-mile ride down the road from Edinburgh, which featured the results and occasionally a quick, poor-quality still photo of the game that had finished mere hours ago. There was much more insight on the next Monday, when I got my hands on the Evening News sport supplement, which featured in-depth coverage of the trials and travails of Hibs, Hearts and Livingston, as well as other teams and sports, the Hibs bits penned by David Hardie, who is still the Hibs correspondent despite his byline photo not having changed for 20 years.

Now I rarely listen to football on the radio. When Hibs are playing and I am not working, I tend to be there. Radio Scotland has a divided frequency service where they play two games on two of their many frequencies, the rest go online and on medium wave they have an Open All Mics service which sounds like a chummy pub sesh, accompanied by shouts of a throw-in from Celtic Park, Ibrox or Almondvale.

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East End Park, in the raw

The last Saturday I was off, I went to East End Park to see Hibs win in person, with the added delights of the steak bridies to make the day all the better. The last Saturday I was off before that was just before the exam for my last OU course and the Dumbarton-Hibs game was sold out. What I did, knowing Radio Scotland would severely tempt me to chuck my radio out of the window, was to turn to Hibs TV, which has live audio commentaries for its UK subscribers of Hibs games with a considerable bias towards us, naturally enough, though some folk had (obviously unofficial) streams of the game on Periscope, which was commendable though with risks of RSIs from holding up a phone for 90 minutes, getting said phone confiscated by a steward or it dying through lack of battery life. That was a strange experience. For those used to seeing football sanitised and through the prism of big broadcasters, Periscope is hilarious as you tend to hear the mumbles and chants from fans and the reception tends to ebb and flow, particularly with the sudden movements as the cameraperson celebrates and forgets they are filming. Plus the Periscope and the Hibs TV commentary didn’t quite sync up, with the audio about 15 seconds behind the video.

The next Hibs fixture is on Friday night, in Dundee. I will be there, though the game is live on BT Sport. I am looking forward to it immensely. The next game I will get to after that will most likely be a freezing, wet and cold Saturday night to see Hibs play Morton at Cappielow, which is a 5.15pm kick-off to take account of BBC Alba showing the game live. Scottish football is surreal in very many ways but one of the more absurd elements is that a lot of football coverage on free-to-air television is presented in a language approximately 1.1% of the population speak. To be fair to BBC Alba, and speaking as a person who aims to learn the Gaelic before I die, their coverage is excellent, albeit slightly bonkers as you try to follow the commentary and the only words you recognise are ‘Garry Kenneth’. If I’m honest, and I probably speak for a lot of football fans, I really couldn’t care less what language it is, as long as I see the game. In any event, the football being in Gaelic can only be an improvement over whatever shite the commentators and pundits are talking and it is why sometimes just looking up the result online is much less complicated even if it just isn’t the same as being at a game in the raw.

This post was inspired by reading an article on the Guardian website, taken from When Saturday Comes, ‘Why listening to the football on the radio beats watching it on TV’ by Tony Cowards. Have a read.

One way or another, again

In the lead-up to the 200th post on this blog (this is post number 198, incidentally), I would like to revisit one of the earliest posts, ‘One way or another‘, written pretty much a year ago, a discursive essay that took in maps and went through a walk I took along the Fife Coastal Path between Anstruther and Crail. I’m quite proud of it so I am posting it again. Sometimes when you spend a lot of your life writing, you can begin to forget what you’ve written before in the pursuit of new words and ideas. It’s nice, though, to revisit and reflect. Enjoy.

“I like maps. Always have done. I’m autistic and we tend to have special interests so maps was one of mine for a while. It still is, in a way – on my bedroom wall I have schematic maps of the New York subway, London Underground and Edinburgh’s bus network as well as a stylised rendering of the island of Arran, plus this year I’ve bought a pile of Ordnance Survey maps covering great swathes of Scotland. (This was meant to be the summer of exploring, of going out into the country rather than just being in cities – it hasn’t quite panned out that way, unfortunately.) I have Google Maps on my phone and it is, with Traveline Scotland, incredibly helpful in planning day trips or routes on the hoof.

My OS maps have come in handy, though. I went to Logan Botanic Garden near Stranraer the other day and number 82 (Stranraer and Glenluce – The Rhins) came with me and was helpful not only in getting our way from the bus to the Garden but in orientating ourselves in Stranraer. For those who haven’t been there – and I wouldn’t especially encourage it – Stranraer is situated at the bottom of Loch Ryan with land on either side leading up to the mouth of the loch. My dad and I weren’t sure what land we were seeing ahead of us in the distance though we gathered that it was possibly the Ailsa Craig, granite quarry and Bass Rock lookalike.

I was more sure of myself on my last great Scottish adventure, back in May. Every year I take the last Saturday off in May to mark the anniversary of my going on day trips on my own. This year I had hoped to be going to the Scottish Cup Final that day but Hibs got themselves knocked out in the semi final. So, instead, I spent weeks trying to decide where I would go. I rarely get Saturdays off so it was a big decision to be made. For a while it was to be Culzean Castle with a walk from there along to Maidens but I felt like going somewhere more familiar, on the right side of the country. I ended up in Anstruther, on the East Neuk of Fife. Definitely the right move.

Anstruther is justly famed for the Fish Bar, a rather fine chippy where you are guaranteed to spend at least 40 minutes in the queue for a fish supper on a summer’s night. (I also saw Santa there in a surreal incident just before Christmas last year but that’s another story.) It is also the birthplace of Thomas Chalmers, who led the Disruption to split the Church of Scotland in 1843, and the place to get a boat to the Isle of May. I like it for the view. As an East Lothian native, I like seeing my native county from across the Forth, with an amazing panorama starting from St. Abbs Head past Torness, Portlands, Dunbar, the Bass, North Berwick Law, Traprain, the Garleton Hills, the soon-to-be-demolished Cockenzie Power Station all the way to Edinburgh and the Pentlands. I have a photo on my wall, beside all the maps, that I took from the other side of the harbour in Anstruther about five years ago, showing a little sailing boat, a coble, I think, with the Bass, the Lammermuirs ad North Berwick Law in the background, a strand of cirrostratus clouds the only shading on an otherwise bright blue sky. The only view I like more is from the other side of the Forth, overlooking Belhaven Bay, but this one was where I wanted to be that day and so I went on the bus to St. Andrews and then on another down to Anstruther, ready to set out on a wander.

I have an unerring trend on summer days of turning up somewhere when there is a gala day, fete or wedding in full flow. Anstruther’s gala day was, naturally, in progress as I stepped off the 95 so I took a turn around the harbour then set off for Crail, as I planned but a little earlier. The walk, of about four miles, is along the Fife Coastal Path, hugging the coast most of the way with that view, right the way over to East Lothian, in full prominence. It was all the better that day becauae the sun was out, as so rarely this summer. I had never done it before but at least knew the way to Cellardyke and had an OS map for the rest.

Cellardyke Harbour was the busiest I’ve ever seen it with two sea anglers on the harbour wall, some walkers and folks at the pub. The drying green on the harbour was even full of clothes. It was still blissfully quiet with a big sky and usual dramatic setting, with the feeling of great distance from anywhere only augmented by the old buildings along the way on James Street harking back to an earlier time, sure, but were still very much homes for folk. Every time I’m in the area, I take a few minutes to stop in Cellardyke and sit with my thoughts, gazing into the distance over the Forth.

As it turned out, OS Landranger 59 (St. Andrews, Kirkcaldy and Glenrothes) wasn’t really needed except to give me an inkling of what came ahead. Hermit’s Well was one example, a geologically interesting cave that probably housed and otherwise aided smugglers over time, I imagined. I just walked with my thoughts and the view, stopping every so often to take a photo or just to take the load off. I hadn’t done a walk like that for a while and I felt enriched from the experience, even while walking through cows and sheep grazing on the shoreline was a new one on me. (I just walked round them. I didn’t fancy doing the matador bit or worse having the livestock think I was a shepherd and leading them all the way back to Glasgow.)

Looking back at the OS map tonight and thinking about that day in May leads me to think about another favourite walk in the Kingdom, from Kirkcaldy to Dysart. That was a random discovery one day a few years back and one I try to return to at least once a year. Dysart has a whole row of fine 16th century houses and is also blessed with that view across the Forth though Edinburgh with its seven hills is much more prominent, with Leith, Newhaven, Granton and Cramond particularly emphasised on the capital’s waterfront. I have a great love of art and Dysart has a cracking set of sculptures on the shoreline, six or seven posts all painted different shades of blue and grey according to the colours of the sea at particular times of the year.

I looked out my maps tonight and ideas are playing about my head, possibly for travels tomorrow or Monday. I’m thinking Fife or Blackness Castle or the western end of East Lothian. I’ll let the maps sway my decision, one way or another.”

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Crail

Winterfield

I was in Dunbar the other day. Not for long, for while I wanted a good walk, time and temperature were against me. While I was there, though, I walked around the Prom to Winterfield Park, a place where, amongst other things, I once played touch rugby (once, I said), lost a Wallace and Gromit figure I used as my stim toy, learned how to ride a bike and used as a stopping and stretching point when I went out running. Not all at once, though. Why Winterfield was particularly prominent in my mind was that I had read in the Courier recently that East Lothian Council intends to knock down the Pavilion in the park though the whole process has been delayed by roosting bats (yep, that makes the papers in East Lothian, people). Dunbar changes every time I go there and given that Winterfield was a prominent place in my childhood and early adult years too, I decided to make sure I had some photographs before it was levelled.

The history of the building is interesting. It was opened in 1925 as a stage for summer entertainment for the holidaying masses. Later it became a shower and toilet block for the caravan park that used to sit towards the golf course. Latterly I remember it being public toilets, handy for the adjoining swing park. For a lot of years, though, it has been derelict, boarded up and fenced off with ever more board panels covering up the roof too. Edinburgh College of Art used it as a basis of a project for their architecture students a few years back – some students came into where I worked at the time with their designs for how they would revitalise the building, no doubt with loads of flourishes and dreams.

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For those who don’t know the geography, Dunbar sits just on the edge of East Lothian, the whole coastline jagged and leading towards the sea. It can sometimes have the sense of being on an island, with surrounding hills and landmarks on three sides. On the middle photograph, you can see, just keeking above the wall to the right, my favourite perspective of Traprain Law, 7 miles away on the road to Haddington, high on the landscape as a good hill fort should have been with the country stretching out underneath. You can also see Knockenhair House sitting high on the hill, shielded by the trees from the unrelenting and unstinting wind.

Every time I go there, it always feel slightly unreal to be in a place that I know so well but is no longer so majorly a part of my life. My home is here, in Glasgow, but there is still a very significant part of me that thinks of Dunbar as home too. Wind and waves are natural parts of my life still, constant forces despite living a fair distance from the sea. I need to go back occasionally to just touch base with myself, to remember where I once was and where I might be, roosting bats and all.

Writing on the train

There has been a minor stooshie this week relating to the musical Hamilton, which is currently playing on the Broadway in New York. One performance saw the Vice President-elect of the United States, Mike Pence, turn up and be booed by the audience. He was also, wonderfully, addressed from the stage during the curtain call about the threats to diversity and, well, pretty much everyone and everything by a Trump presidency.

Hamilton was created by someone called Lin-Manuel Miranda. To be honest, I hadn’t heard of him until quite recently though I gather he had performed up a storm at either the Grammys or the Tonys ceremony earlier in the year. He was interviewed in the Observer this past weekend and the end of the article focused on how his life has not changed greatly because of his fame and good fortune.

‘Of the financial windfall, Miranda downplays it. “I bought myself time to write,” he says. Miranda still lives near his old neighbourhood, he still hangs out with the same high school and college crew, he still takes the subway. “I’ve written too much good shit on the train to not be able to take it,” he says.’

Now, that’s my kind of writer. I have filled just shy of 200 posts on this blog with tales of travelling up and down this great land and a fair whack of them were written on the hoof, either from my phone or scribbled into a notebook. My short-term memory isn’t wonderful so I prefer to get as many of my impressions down as quickly as I can before I forget. I do try to make what I write as good as it can be, amazingly, and details are key to making that happen. I have memories of at least two day trips this year when I sat on the train coasting northwards writing the accompanying blog post. The words often just flow and I get quite a buzz from reliving the day like that as I put it all down on paper.

I find it hard to force myself to sit on my arse and work, either to write or study. Over the years, however, I have found that I concentrate quite well on the move and therefore a lot of my OU career progress has happened on buses and trains, with a tablet in one hand and the fingers of the other scrolling from page to page. The OU publishes most of its course materials in PDF format so they are exceedingly portable and I can combine travelling, which I love, with studying, which is very important to my future plans and self-worth.

The 200th post on this blog will appear soon – this is post 196. It features a quote I saw on a wall in Leith earlier this year, which reads ‘The things I love are not at home’. I can concentrate to write at home but not so much to study or to write in a more creative way. It’s almost as if I need distractions to get the job done, to have the added layers of what’s passing by and the fellow passengers and their foibles to go along with whatever I am trying to do. Lin-Manuel Miranda said that he had ‘written too much good shit on the train to not be able to take it’. Apparently to concentrate properly, to adequately function and meet my obligations, to do what I love and enjoy, I need to sit on trains and buses.

It’s always been more than just going to the place for me. I like travelling because of the journey, sometimes more than reaching the destination. I wrote before about bus philosophy, the wider, wilder thoughts some folks have sitting staring out of the window on buses. I think best with some distance, either looking far off as by the sea or with physical separation from my life’s normal happenings. Of course I can’t spend all day, every day on buses: I have to earn the money to do that and it doesn’t come from sitting writing and thinking grand thoughts, not right now anyway. But it gives me perspective and luckily, like Lin-Manuel Miranda, quite a few good ideas have come while I have been travelling and even while it isn’t quite orthodox as a working model, it works for me.

Winter

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I took this particular photograph nearly six years ago now, in January 2011. It is from the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh, looking towards the New Town. The three church spires you can see are part of St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral on Palmerston Place, one of the capital’s nicer churches. The tower just about hidden by the tree in the centre of the photograph is no longer a church. It sits at the bottom of St. Vincent Street in the New Town. The first time I ever saw it was on one of my earlier wanderings around the New Town and I remember thinking it was the kind of church where you could readily imagine a newly married couple walking down the steps as their guests showered them in confetti.

That winter, between 2010 and 2011, was very cold in Scotland, probably the last really bad one we’ve had. I still lived in Dunbar and the weather was so bad that the trains were off for a week. I didn’t leave Dunbar for a fortnight and when I did, it took 2 hours to reach Edinburgh by bus. I am writing this on a night when the first real snow fell in the Scottish Central Belt though it has been more rainy here in the Weeg. The closure of the road between Cock Bridge and Tomintoul up north has happened already, with the inevitable photos of Siberian weather rattling through the glens.

There are so many stereotypes of the Scottish weather, that it always rains and it’s always cold. Today has been cold and rainy but honestly it isn’t always such. The last couple of weeks have, more or less, been glorious here in Glasgow with the autumn colours being brought out to full effect. Now it is getting much more wintry and looking at this photograph of the Botanics, I am looking forward to it. You see, the Scottish winter is a time of early darkness, sure, but it’s also a time when our light is that bit paler and that bit more precious too. Like our summer, it is a season of long shadows, as seen in this photograph, but it is still hopeful, celebratory of the year past and looking forward to the new year to come.

Magic

A lot of libraries are organised by something called the Dewey Decimal System. Non-fiction books are arranged from 000 to 999, encompassing a whole great sweep of human knowledge with a three digit number, albeit one invariably with quite a few decimal points after. Last year sometime, there was a good library joke going about Twitter, which read:

‘I still believe in 398.2’. 

For those uninitiated, I’ll give the game away in a minute. I’ll give you time to Google what 398.2 is in Dewey. I’ll wait. In the meantime, here’s a photograph:

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This photograph was taken in the woods behind Caerlaverock Castle, near Dumfries, possibly the best castle in Scotland.

398.2 is where you would find the books about fairy tales. When I walked in the woods as a kid, I used to imagine fairies and mythical creatures roaming amidst the trees, even while I knew as a rational sort of person they wouldn’t be there. I think it was the writer in me, my imagination conjuring up a broader world in the already teeming life of the woods. It was often when I thought of ideas for writing and for life. It was like John Clare, who wrote that ‘I found the poems in the fields / And only wrote them down’.

When I was at Caerlaverock a few months ago, the woods were quite young, like Lochend Woods where I used to walk near Dunbar. It was the kind of place where fairies, pixies and the rest could be readily imagined living quite contentedly. When I think of Caerlaverock, I tend to think of the castle, which is unfair, since the woodland and wetlands not so far from it are also pretty special too. Walking in the woods is an immersive experience and it is easy to forget the wider world when surrounded by trees in their various varieties. The sounds, sights, touches of the woods are disorientating and they do make you think bigger thoughts worthy of the height of those trees. So, yes, I still believe in 398.2. It would amaze you the folk who do.

Scotland’s favourite book

I’ve not long watched ‘Scotland’s Favourite Book’ on the iPlayer, one of those progammes produced periodically listing our country’s best books. Of the top 10 featured in the programme, I have read seven of them, including the winner of the public poll, Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon. Unusually, given that book’s place on the Higher English syllabus for generations, I didn’t actually read it for school, rather I read it the summer before fifth year, the summer I actually visited the Grassic Gibbon Centre in the Mearns when on holiday in that bit of the world. For those who don’t know the story, I won’t spoil it for you. But it is one of those books that stays with you and every time I am in the Mearns, I imagine scenes from the book, the landscape evoked and brought to life in its pages.

As a matter of fact, I read a lot of the books on the list during my high school years. I went through the senior section of the school library and read many of the Scottish classics during that time, including The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg (which I read around the same time as I did its creative descendant, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, which was on the longlist), The Thirty-nine Steps by John Buchan and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark. Just around the time I left school, I discovered Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus novels and devoured the lot within a couple of months. As a matter of fact, with my first wage, I went to the now defunct Borders book shop at Fort Kinnaird, a retail park on the outskirts of Edinburgh, and spent a fair few quid on books, including many of the Rebus books I hadn’t yet read, including Exit Music, which at the time was the latest one. I’ve been in and out of love with the Rebus books over the years. Some of them are better written than others. The most recent one, Rather Be The Devil, which came out on Thursday, I read the day it came out and it was better than some of the last few. Malcolm Fox is a decent addition to the series and balances Rebus and Siobhan Clarke well. Anyway, Knots and Crosses was the Rebus novel chosen for ‘Scotland’s Favourite Books’ and it is the first one in the series, with a very different feel, written in a more deliberately literary way than later books.

Of the other books, I first read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone when I was 10, just around when the third book came out. I think I have written here before about my Harry Potter love. I re-read them still at least once a year and I read at least three of the books the day they came out.

Very different is The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks, which I read in my early twenties. It and many of Banks’s other works had been recommended to me and I went through a few. The Wasp Factory is very weird and that is my only memory of it, if I am honest.

The other three books on the list – Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh, Lanark by Alasdair Gray and the various adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle – I haven’t read yet, though I have seen Lanark on the stage when it was put on by the Citizens Theatre last year some time. It is all too rich and allegorical for me. Alasdair Gray is a talented writer and artist but I always feel like I am swimming full-pelt to keep up with the ideas in his work.

My high school library was surprisingly decent. It wasn’t well-funded but the librarian did her best. I have no overarching vision about how we should get children and teenagers to read but having a well-stocked library to hand, and people to encourage you to explore it, is invaluable. I read before I went to school and I certainly read a fair bit nearly a decade after I left it and it is because I have had access to libraries. Plus having been fortunate to afford to buy or been given some books occasionally. Books make you stronger in just about every sense, including physically if you have to humpf loads of them about the place, and I have no doubt that in my teenage years, as now, books made me who I am today.

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Capital wander

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Calton Hill

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North of Edinburgh with Forth Bridges and Fife hills in the distance

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Leith

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Easter Road with the East Lothian coast and North Berwick Law in the distance
Getting up the other morning, I had the notion to go up Calton Hill in Edinburgh. It was cloudy and a wee bit chilly when I eventually reached the capital and in short order the top of Calton Hill. I stood for a good long while at the crest of the hill that faces towards the Port of Leith, Inchkeith, Fife, Easter Road and East Lothian, letting my eyes wander up and down the familiar streets and across the Forth towards North Berwick Law. I sometimes go to Edinburgh and end up wandering towards Easter Road, walking around the side of the ground to head back to the city centre. This time, I felt like going towards Meadowbank, home now to Edinburgh’s third league team, Edinburgh City. Meadowbank, otherwise known as the Commonwealth Stadium, is quite derelict now, with a decaying grandstand and floodlight pylons that can be seen across the east of the city. I walked along London Road and ended up peeking through the fence to Meadowbank and imagining the few hundred folk who go there every second Saturday.

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Floodlights
Lochend Park is not on Edinburgh’s tourist trail. The tourists don’t know what they’re missing. I went to school nearby and one of the paths through the park always felt really long, dark even in the middle of the day, and atmospheric. Everything seems bigger when you’re a kid. This being November, the path to the right of Lochend Loch was much less overgrown since the trees have shed their leaves and the walk took about 2 minutes from beginning to end. The atmosphere, though, was very much there, especially as I stood at the top end of the loch, nearest to Lochend Road and the Loch Inn, where seagulls swooped around me and the place seemed full of birds on the water and flying around.

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Scary path in Lochend Park

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Birds.
After that, I walked around the side of Easter Road. The Holy Ground was its usual splendour though I didn’t linger as time was marching on. I walked around towards the South Stand as I had noticed an interesting looking building on Albion Road that I hadn’t seen before. It turns out that it houses an arts charity called Impact Arts and the building is called the Printworks. I don’t know much more than that but it was a nice looking building nonetheless. I turned across the Bothwell Street Bridge back into town, looking at the murals on the bridge, particularly appreciating one that showed the city landscape in a sort of coloured silhouette, if that makes sense.

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I walked back to Waverley via Montgomery Street, Gayfield Square, London Street, Dublin Street and St. Andrew’s Square. I hadn’t been along Montgomery Street in years and just fancied going another way rather than London Road, which is a fine street but one I walk along fairly often. Gayfield Square leads into the New Town and I often used to use it as a short cut when wandering in the hereabouts. It is also known for being where Rebus was based in the later novels, and indeed it is where Siobhan Clarke and Malcolm Fox are based in the new novel Rather Be The Devil, which is one of the better novels, much better than some of the last few. Dublin Street leads back up towards Queen Street and it is a fine New Town street, with property prices to match.

I think I wrote here recently about looking forward to catching up with some of my favourite places in Edinburgh over the winter. The list is growing – new additions are the National Museum and Gallery, the Meadows and Arthur’s Seat. I probably won’t be there every week but Edinburgh is an easy day trip to plan and put together, often a spur of the moment kind of place. It will be nice to be there a bit more in the coming weeks and months.

 

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The Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) here in Glasgow is sometimes hit-and-miss in terms of the exhibitions it has on. My view on contemporary art is like my view on music: if I think it’s bad then it’s more to do with me than the artist. I have seen quite a few decent exhibitions there, including the art collection that used to hang in the old BBC building at Queen Margaret Drive in the West End, and another exhibition which had a big pile of chairs as part of an installation. Being clumsy, I nearly knocked them over once as I turned around. I had to beat a hasty retreat in case I got chucked oot.

The photograph above was taken of another exhibition in Gallery 4 at GOMA, which featured cardboard recreations of every church in the Edinburgh phone book, produced by Nathan Coley. I liked visiting this exhibition because it made me feel like a giant. I’m about 5 foot 8 so that doesn’t happen so often. Plus I grew up near Edinburgh so I know some of these churches quite well, including the church with a crown of thorns on top (St. Michael’s, Linlithgow) and the church with four spikes on top, which I think is Dunbar Parish Church. Sadly, this exhibition got wrecked a few weeks after this photo was taken by flooding. But it was rather good, all the same.

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I have long been interested in castles, the more rugged and ruined the better. Many of them in Scotland are looked after by Historic Environment Scotland, the agency formerly known as Historic Scotland until they merged with the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historic Monuments in Scotland (RCAHMS) earlier this year. A few castles in Scotland are known the world over – Edinburgh, Stirling (see previous post on that great place here), Urquhart – and I have been to all three at least once. I tend to prefer smaller castles in more isolated spots. They tend to be more dramatic and be easier to bring to life as you walk around them. It’s much harder to do that at Edinburgh Castle, for example, where you are invariably surrounded by thousands of people and Tartan tat in the giftshops at every turn.

One of my favourite parts of Edinburgh Castle is probably one of the least-known parts of it. Off Crown Square is an exhibit about American prisoners of war, which features some intriguing exhibits including a model warship made out of food bones and various examples of graffiti produced by prisoners in the Castle over time, including renderings of the Stars and Stripes from the very early days of the United States. By the time this post appears, we will (hopefully) know the outcome of the US Presidential election, whether it may well be the end of days for that great nation.

I have become a connoisseur of castle graffiti. It is perhaps a latter-day version of social media, the ‘look-at-me’ culture where everyone wants to make their mark on wherever they are, like the padlocks that weigh down many bridges and quaysides. My interest started when I first visited castles as a kid and I was at Crichton Castle, which sits in a very dramatic setting in the wilds of Midlothian. Behind the central courtyard I found a bit of graffiti dating from 1745, no less. It’s amazing what you find on castle walls, the traces of masons making and visitors carving in centuries past. When I was at Caerlaverock Castle in April, I found an example of a lavishly carved signature, featuring two very curly ‘c’s, apparently dating from 1815, another year momentous in European history. Not so far away was another very clear signature from 1857, a less momentous year though still notable for being the year Sheffield FC, the world’s first football team, was founded and when the Victoria and Albert Museum was opened in London.

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Caerlaverock Castle

I follow a blog called lullueblog, which I enjoy reading. Its author writes about authentic travel experiences. I’ve often wondered about what makes a travel experience authentic, what makes an experience more vivid and broader than just a stray glance without much meaning conveyed. Being autistic affects how I see the world, for good or ill. When I visit castles, my deep interest in architecture and my keen autistic fixation on detail play varying parts in how I see where I am. Oftentimes, forging a personal connection with a place depends on the day, one’s personal preoccupations and predilections. I like castles for many reasons. They are often in places with beautiful views, by the sea like Tantallon or Dunnottar or in the midst of flowing countryside like Doune or Huntingtower. Some people form a connection in different ways. I tend to write about where I go. Other people want to be seen to have been there, to leave a permanent mark on the place. That date they carve into the wall weathers over time, a winter or two taking away the sharpness of the indentations of those numbers, soon becoming historical in its own right, as much a part of the place as those inhabitants long gone for whom it was built.