This is the two hundredth post here on Walking Talking. I don’t know what you get for doing something 200 times. Writer’s block, probably, or cramp. Anyway, I wanted to write a little something about why I do this, why I write and why I like to travel. Some of it can be neatly encapsulated by this photograph, taken in Leith back in May:
I have been writing for most of my life. The first time I ever remember writing was when I was at primary school and I edited the class newspaper, The Christie Miller News. When I was a teenager, I wrote poems and stories like they were falling out of me. I was a big reader and so a lot of what I wrote then was influenced by what I read. In one story I wrote, a band the characters formed was named after a line in a Pablo Neruda poem. I wrote poems about a lot of things. They’re shite so you’ll never see them. Plus I’ve moved a few times so they’ve probably ended up pulped and recycled long before now.
For a lot of years, I have written stories and I use them to work through issues. I write them like a script, with dialogues and not a lot of exposition. I can’t be arsed with the ‘he said, she said’ stuff of novels, though I do that from time to time. Again, you won’t see them here but they have helped me improve significantly in my writing. I aim for simplicity and in writing, that can only be achieved by doing it a lot.
The blog you are reading now came out of two things. In the summer of 2015, I attended a creative writing class at Strathclyde University, partly as a way to fill an evening but partly as a bit of self-investment. I wrote a story, a real one, based on an idea I had been thinking about for years about an autistic superhero. It ended up being a silly piece about a superhero joining a trade union. Anyway, around the same time, a friend encouraged me to put my writing skills to good use by starting a blog. Being stubborn, I did hee-haw about it for a few weeks until I was up late one night and ended up starting this. I liked it so I wrote a bit more then a bit more after that. Somehow this blog has a few readers and that’s nice. I write because I enjoy it and it helps me make sense of things. From being about travelling to start with, it has snowballed a bit featuring posts about autism, politics, humanism, football, literature and maps, and that’s just off the top of my head.
Why I like to travel is a bit harder to explain. I grew up in Dunbar, on the east coast of Scotland, though went to primary school in Edinburgh. Every morning a taxi arrived to convey me into the city and that quickly became routine. My class often went out and about into the world, on trips and Magical Mystery Tours (as I think I wrote about in the Dunfermline post). With family, I went to quite a few places too and so my love of travelling grew, though it only really got to manifest itself after I left school. Every Saturday, and then most weeks, I went on a day trip somewhere in southern Scotland and northern England, sometimes with other people, most of the time on my own. Sometimes the destination was determined by financial considerations, though as time went on and I worked more, I had much more choice.
Living in Dunbar meant my day trips invariably had an east-coast bias. Edinburgh factored most weeks, Fife, Newcastle, Durham and Northumberland. Glasgow was an once-a-month place. Usually I went by train, reliant on a limited timetable of express trains calling at Dunbar now and then, though sometimes a bus was called upon if the timetable just didn’t suit. Soon bigger day trips happened. By the time I moved, the furthest north I had been was Aberdeen, south to York and London, west to Ayr and Alloway.
Moving to Glasgow was a very dramatic change in my life in all sorts of ways. For the first few months, I spent part of the week working in East Lothian and the rest in Glasgow. The scope for day trips expanded considerably. The early days of 2014 saw the first day trip by plane (but not the last), going back to Dublin. Being located in the west meant that I could take advantage of this great city’s fine transport links. One Saturday day trip took me to Oban, another weekday led me down on the X74 to Dumfries, on a bus that promptly broke down just near the Forest of Ae. Further afield, Liverpool and Manchester became much more accessible. Day trip destinations that used to take hours can now be reached in barely half an hour. I can (and often do) go to Kelvingrove on a Sunday afternoon. In short, it is no longer an event but still something I enjoy greatly.
‘The things I love are not at home’. I should say that many of the people I love are here in Glasgow but they aren’t things. I am not a material person. My proudest possession at this current moment in time is a (much-depleted) packet of caramel digestive biscuits. I always say that anything I want I can’t buy and it’s true. Hibs won the Scottish Cup this year and while I paid for my ticket for the Final, the feelings I (and many others) had on the final whistle were priceless.
It is true, however, that the feeling I get each time I set out cannot be replicated sitting in the house. It is the best feeling, the feeling of freedom, the wondering of where will I go and how I will do it. There has to be a sense of wonder or the game’s a bogey. I have been to some places that aren’t necessarily on the tourist trail and still my mind has been subtly blown by something. To get to Falkland Palace from here requires changing bus in Glenrothes, one of Scotland’s New Towns. To be fair, Glenrothes is not nice. It is the only place where I’ve seen someone getting their head caved in at the bus station in full view of about 50 people. It is also very concrete and dull, to be honest, like most New Towns. The first time I went to Falkland, the bus went by a church which looked like a fire station. The church had given its name to the adjoining roundabout, which had the fabulously inappropriate name of St. Columba’s Roundabout, complete with a Celtic cross floral arrangement in the middle. I am sure St. Columba, when he came to Iona in 563 AD, would have been delighted that a part of his legacy in these islands was a roundabout in Glenrothes.
Edinburgh usually works as a day trip destination because I know it so well. Despite having lived here for three years, I still know the capital better than I do Glasgow, though Glasgow is edging closer as I take different turnings and discover new places. I walked up Calton Hill recently and a lot of things I love were present in a sweep of a view, the Forth, the North Sea, East Lothian and Easter Road, as well as the Fife coastline.
My very first solo day trip destination was Durham. At the time I was at a wee bit of a low ebb in my life but that day gave me some hope that things would be better. Durham was new to me then though I have been there many times since. I have a few abiding memories of that day, of walking around the Cathedral lost in its architectural details and being by the River Wear with its trees drooping low over the river water. I also recall the cute girls jogging by the river too but that’s quite another story.
The day trip concept has evolved considerably since that day in May. It has become international, with day trips to Dublin in the mix. There have been quite a few trips to London in there too. My view of London has developed too. I used to hate the place. I had a couple of bad experiences visiting it when I was younger and I felt really uncomfortable with the crowds, bustle and noise of the place. After a few visits, though, on my own and with others, I have reached a sort of peace with the place. Politically, different story but in most other senses, I can fill a day there quite easily. I still have a long list of places I want to see in the metropolis and more than a few I quite fancy a return to, like Greenwich, Conway Hall and Tate Modern. I have reached the point when I don’t mind a trip down there but like to do it in one day so I can go to sleep in my own bed that night.
‘The things I love are not at home’. I am lucky that I get a great deal of contentment from being out in the world and that I have a sense of wonder that carries me forth from day to day, well, most of the time. We live in an interesting country. By that I encompass England and Northern Ireland too. I haven’t ever been to Wales but I would like to. For one thing it has castles plus the best accent anywhere except my own, of course.
I have been around a lot of parochial people, who can’t see anything beyond their own particular bit of the river. I always like looking over the crest of a hill, over the horizon, to see what lies beyond. It’s a Dunbar thing. Looking across the sea was something I used to do a lot. Looking in the distance broadens perceptions, minimising one’s ego and making us think more about our place as one of many, one in one spot on a far larger planet. What’s over the horizon can be good, it can be bad too. Sometimes it’s just worth finding out. What you’ll see here might just be the results of that process.