Invariably the programmes I want to watch on TV aren’t on when I can watch them. That used to be a problem but not so much when the iPlayer and other catch-up apps exist. I download programmes to watch either in dinner breaks or just in bed or on the move. While I was on holiday in Northumberland, I caught up with two episodes of the Great British Railway Journeys, the Michael Portillo train travelling yarn, travelling through my native East Lothian as well as County Durham and Edinburgh. Portillo was also in Craster about a mile from where I was sitting at the time. He is a ham actor par excellence and some of what he gets up to (and wears) makes you cringe. But they are compulsive viewing, especially when the places he’s in are so familiar. Indeed some of the people on them were familiar too, including my first boss, interviewed in the Glebe in Dunbar.
Craster was an unexpected surprise, one of the most beautiful places anywhere and seeing Portillo sitting on a bench looking across the harbour made me smile and want to be there. He went to visit the smokehouse across the road from where I had lunch on Monday. The smokehouse smelt beautiful, incidentally.
Dunbar was the main interest. As well as learning about John Muir, he also fannied about on a coracle in the Biel Burn, just as it passes the dump road in its haste to join the sea in Belhaven Bay. He was assisted by Junior Rangers, teenagers who assist the park rangers, but not even they could stop him acting like a choob and nearly falling in.
He also went to Haddington, East Lothian’s county town, and learned about Samuel Smiles, born in the High Street, who coined the term ‘self-help’ and wrote about it in the fine Victorian tradition. Portillo stood on the Victoria Bridge on the way to my dad’s house and then on the Nungate Bridge by St. Mary’s talking about Samuel Smiles. Luckily he got a beautiful day, showing off Haddington and the fine kirk of St. Mary’s to best effect.
I am hardly a fan of Michael Portillo’s politics. His programmes, though, are easy watching and don’t delve too much into specifics but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If they encourage people to look beyond the end of their noses and go out into the world then I’m a happy guy. So, go watch them. They are on the iPlayer for the next three weeks or so. Then get out a map or a computer and plan a trip someplace. If you want to go to East Lothian, wonderful. Ask for recommendations. Right after this, I’m going to plan a trip myself. Not sure where, all I know is a train will be involved, if not a galoot in pink breeks and a yellow blazer.