I subscribe to a newsletter of a website called ‘The Mighty’, which invariably pops into my inbox in the wee small hours of the morning. When I read it (at a more civilised hour) this morning, there was a link to an article with the intriguing headline: ‘How to Explain an Autism Spectrum Diagnosis to a Child‘. The pay-off was when the author met a young child with autism who explained his diagnosis thusly:
‘I have autism. Sometimes, I struggle with things like looking people in the eyes. But it also means that I have a great imagination.’
In my years, I have used various formulae to explain my own condition. I went as far as having a standard form of words I used to use in job applications in times gone by. I have an autistic spectrum disorder, diagnosed when I was 6. While I have some difficulties with communication, particularly in making eye contact, it does not impede my ability to work, indeed often it enhances it. When I talk about being autistic to people, which I do occasionally, I tend to have a standard spiel. I talk a little about being diagnosed, how it affects my brain and how it’s wired. I usually talk about how sometimes it can be difficult to process information in all its varieties. Sometimes I nick a quote from Temple Grandin, who said that an autistic brain can be like being in a busy office with one functioning fax machine. I tend to keep it personal. If you go into psychological speak, people glaze over.
In my work, I always believe it best to level with people. When it comes to describing who I am, I prefer not to bullshit. I also don’t like people thinking I’m amazing. I’m not, really. I’m not inspirational or all that special. I have a brain that is wired a bit differently. Being autistic can be a major pain in the arse. It can be isolating and it comes with a whole load of other concerns. I am quite anxious some of the time and I have bowel problems too. But it is also a major part of who I am. However, it is by no means the only part. It is one label.
We all have labels. We attach labels to ourselves and each other. All too often, they define us in others’ eyes. We are more than our labels. Off the top of my head, I am a writer, blogger, library assistant, Hibs fan, brother, son, uncle, cousin, grandson, nephew, friend, colleague, subordinate. And I am autistic. I might be weird or I might be a geek. So what? We are all people. I was brought up to treat everyone the same. Think of your favourite celebrity, your bit of pash or whoever. They put their trousers on the same way as anyone else does. They go for a dump, they fart, whatever. They are just people, whatever their label.
We are all in the business of selling the best version of ourselves. The explanation of autism as coming with setbacks but blessings chimes with my own perspective and hopefully it will be reflected in the wider public perception of autism in time to come.
A few months ago, I posted about a new sculpture on Victoria Street in Dunbar called the Creel Loaders. I wrote the post, posted it again because I liked it, then promptly forgot about it, writing lengthy blethers about other things in the meantime. This morning, I heard from the Dunbar Shore and Harbour Neighbourhood Group. They weren’t enclosing a defamation writ or anything, thankfully, instead complementing the post and providing more information about the Dunbar Harbour Gateway Project they are currently undertaking. The Group have laid waymarker stones leading to the sculptures just to finish off the landscaping. I look forward to seeing them when next in Dunbar in a week or so.
The Harbour Gateway Project strikes a chord with me, bringing the harbour and Dunbar’s maritime past to the fore to tempt visitors down to the shore as well as informing those from the town about what once happened there. The Cat’s Row tenements that once stood on Victoria Street, where fisherfolk lived in sight of the harbours, were replaced by terraced houses designed by Sir Basil Spence. I know there are quite a few folk who like brutalist architecture, of which Spence was a particular proponent, but I am really not one of them, thinking Spence more of an architectural vandal for his tower blocks that once dotted the skyline of this great city and the destruction of George Square in the heart of Edinburgh University. I digress. Victoria Street is fine, Spence’s houses are not at all bad, though the street is even nicer because of the Creel Loaders sculpture, which seeks to ‘connect people with place’, which is a great sentiment and one with which I heartily concur.
How do we connect with places? I have a deep and lasting connection with Dunbar that persists despite living now at the other side of the country. It stems from personal memories, good and bad, long walks, reading and living life. My adopted home, Glasgow, has been harder but I smile when I approach the city when I’ve been away, just as I used to when the train passed Belhaven Bay on the approach to Dunbar station. I have been lucky to have been able to form connections with all sorts of places in lots of different ways. I was just thinking there about Dublin, a city which I have visited quite a few times and like immensely for its history, walkability and all round charm. I think personal resonance has a part, memories, not to mention a wee bit of imagination to carry you through. The next time I walk down Victoria Street, I will chance a glance at the Creel Loaders and think back to what my ancestors might have been doing in centuries past, there and on distant shores too.
I only seem to be on Buchanan Street when I am going some place else. It’s usually for the best. Very often it’s absolutely mobbed, full of folk milling about, buskers, panhandlers, street performers and charity muggers. Nevertheless it is a fine street, with lots of great architecture plus, hey, it’s one of the main streets in the greatest city in the world. For this first Streets of Glasgow, I decided on Buchanan Street since I was in town the other day for a course and Buchanan Street is short enough to walk end-to-end and still get a decent bite of lunch. Plus Buchanan is a family name so it seemed appropriate that the street I chose had a personal resonance.
I started from the Royal Concert Hall, having sat on the steps finishing lunch before setting off. The whole of Buchanan Street was in view, a constantly moving picture of people black against the hazy, mazy sunshine. I could see right down to the other end at St. Enoch Subway Station plus a little way beyond to the river and the Cathkin Braes. There were a few folk sitting on the steps, a young couple chatting, others eating lunch or just watching the world go by. I looked across to Topshop and up to the top of the building as it rounded onto Sauchiehall Street. It bore the words ‘The Cleland Testimonial’, with a crest above. As I walked down the steps, I made a point of stopping by the statue of Donald Dewar, his plinth raised to deter folk breaking his glasses. What Dewar would have made of today’s Labour Party, we can only but wonder. I’m fairly sure he wouldn’t have approved of the Mercedes Benz Pop-up Shop just feet away from his statue, though.
Walking down towards the junction with Bath Street, I looked this way and that, up to the buildings and wondering just why so many of them had railings at the top. I also thought about the old HMV, now empty but apparently to be turned into a branch of New Look, or so the Evening Times tells me. It is such a massive shop and in an iconic part of the city, prime retail real estate. Buchanan Street has very few empty shops, unlike so many towns and cities in this country. I am often in Paisley, where even McDonalds is pulling out of the High Street, so I’m glad to see shops in the heart of Glasgow and with folk in them. As I crossed the road and passed Buchanan Galleries, I stopped to look across a gap in the buildings towards Queen Street Station and beyond to the City Chambers, only for a moment since venturing further would be off this particular street and that wouldn’t do. Buchanan Street is like a lot of Glasgow city centre in that at various points you can be rewarded with fine city architecture as you stand at the traffic lights waiting to cross.
On the steps of Buchanan Galleries was some galoot done up as a knight on a horse, a living statue, one of two on the street with another one outside the Apple Store done up like the Duke of Wellington statue. Whatever gets them through the day. There was a busker too, just by the Royal Concert Hall, who I think was playing Ave Maria. Not at all bad either.
Buchanan Street is just over half-a-mile long. It is also the distance between Subway stops, between Buchanan Street station at the top and St. Enoch at the bottom. Earlier in the day, I had spent a few minutes admiring St. Enoch Subway, its old station building, now a coffee shop, and the elegant glass structures at each end shielding ascending passengers from the elements. Buchanan Street is bounded by glass too, elegant as many of its surrounding buildings are, including the former Athenaeum, now the Hard Rock Cafe, with its many statues, lintels, windows, finials and features. By the St George’s Tron Church is Nelson Mandela Place, named by one of our more left-wing council administrations in the dark days of Apartheid in South Africa. It is certainly more appropriate than many of our street names that come from tobacco plantation and slave owners, particularly in the Merchant City. Anyway, across the road one of the prettier buildings on Buchanan Street houses Urban Outfitters, a trendy clothes shop. Of more interest to us defiantly untrendy folk are the carvings around its doorways and above street level. It has the look of the Old Bailey in London, in some small way.
When I used to visit Glasgow on day trips, I invariably stopped into Borders, a bookshop that sat smack dab in the middle of Buchanan Street backing onto Royal Exchange Square. It went bust a few years ago and now it is another trendy clothes shop, but one I like, mainly for the sewing machines that bedeck its windows. At one point a few years ago, I spent a few weeks photographing hundreds of Singer sewing machines in a museum collection. When I walked past that shop, I was able to spot that the machines in the window were displayed wrongly – the wrong way round. Next door to the Allsaints Spitallfield shop is a branch of the Nationwide Building Society, another very elegant building with a coat of arms carved into the lintel above the door and a dome atop the roof. This walk was shaping up to be all about the rooftops, as many of my walks in Glasgow city centre tend to be, though I was enjoying just being in the cool sunshine, just out in the world.
The part of Buchanan Street I know least is the bit between Gordon Street and Argyle Street, mainly because that’s where the posher shops are and I don’t have any great need or want to be down there. It also has some very fine buildings, not least the one that houses Timberland, quite a weird red and yellow striped building that looked not dissimilar to the Hard Rock Cafe up the road. I spent a lot of this portion of the walk looking up, noticing the strange juxtaposition of this 19th-century grandeur and a satellite dish at one point, and loving just how beautiful and elegant these buildings are, the rival of any city in the world in so many ways. I also ducked down a lane, justifying it by there being no street sign to disprove the notion I was still on Buchanan Street, and found old signage on the building at its end – which I love (and featured on the blog on Friday here) – and some classy murals of a man’s head and a plate of fish and chips, which was appropriate since it was next to a chippy. Randomly stood in the lane was a table with two beer pumps on it, though I didn’t bother to check if they were connected since beer is rank.
I also took the opportunity to satisfy my curiosity and go into the Princes Square shopping centre, which I had never been into before but I knew had won design awards when it opened in the 1990s. According to some women I heard on the train earlier today, it also houses a very fine Italian restaurant they had been going to for years but couldn’t remember the name of. Anyway, I took a turn around the centre and it was very fine, with wooden framing everywhere, even the escalators, modern but trying to look old. The Argyll Arcade nearby, meanwhile, is old but trying to look modern with the red sandstone building now housing a Nike store.
With that, my Buchanan Street walk was over, some 20 minutes after it started at the Royal Concert Hall. The walk was fine, I have to say, enjoyable just being a tourist in my own city, seeing familiar places anew and not thinking about anything much except what was going on around me. I felt my connection with Glasgow had grown a wee bit in the time it took to walk half a mile, with all around me folk on lunchbreaks or out doing their messages, all with a purpose. I didn’t really have one except to walk and to observe. It wasn’t so bad at all.
A few weeks ago, I wrote here about a walking-writing project I would like to work on called Streets of Glasgow involving walking from one end of city streets to another and recording what I see or otherwise observe. I was in the city centre for a course today and at lunchtime I snuck out and did the first of these walks on Buchanan Street. The post about this walk appears on Sunday – I still have to write it. In the meantime, for the Weekly Photo Challenge, I wanted to share this photograph of something I found along the way, a building down a lane marked by its previous owners. The lane is home to a chippy and a restaurant, just off one of the busiest shopping streets in Scotland. I hadn’t ever been down it before but was glad I did.
I try not to write too much of the trials and tribulations of Hibernian Football Club on this blog, honest – there are enough other people who write on the various messageboards and some other blogs about our team without my input. I wanted to write a little something, though, about Conrad Logan. Conrad Logan played for Hibs at the end of last season. He now plays for Rochdale in England’s lower leagues. Now, that’s the boring summary. He came to play for Hibs after our first-choice goalkeeper got himself booked and thus suspended for losing his contact lens. After no competitive football for 16 months due to injury, he was between the sticks for our Scottish Cup semi final last year against Dundee United. Quite honestly, watching him warm up didn’t fill me with much confidence. He was, to put it charitably, not looking in the best shape. Then the game started. The game was not the finest Hampden has ever seen. After 90 minutes, and extra time, it was still goalless, due in no small part to the role of Conrad Logan. Then the penalty shootout came. We left the National Stadium with a spot in the Final. Logan saved again and again, not by a fluke but great motions across the goal to deny United. Unaccountably, Alan Stubbs dropped Logan for the next game in the league, which was the following Wednesday against The Rangers (score: 3-2 in the glorious Leith sunshine, just as a few weeks later down Mount Florida way), though he featured in most of the rest of the games last season, including on 21st May.
Conrad Logan retains an affection amongst many Hibs fans, myself included. There is even something called the Conrad Logan Hibs Supporters Club, which I believe is based in West Lothian. Their flag has appeared prominently at our recent away games against Dundee United and Raith Rovers. Members of that august group went down to see Rochdale play a few weeks ago but sadly Conrad was on the bench. The previous Saturday, unfortunately, Rochdale had got gubbed in the FA Cup and our hero was in goal.
There is a film out just now called Logan. I have absolutely no clue what it’s about, only I know it isn’t about Conrad Logan. The Hollywood movie hucksters have undoubtedly missed a trick. A few weeks ago, Manchester United Tweeted an advert for the film and wonderfully Hibs replied, in a vaguely trolling kind of way, with a picture of Conrad with the movie’s strapline. Every time I see the adverts on the sides of buses, I think ‘no, his time came last year at Hampden’. It certainly has.[/caption]
As this post is published, I will be watching Hibs play, this time in beautiful downtown Paisley. We have an excellent goalie just now by the name of Ofir Marciano, who was our best player against Dunfermline the other night. Our goalkeepers tend to have random stories. Mark Oxley, the goalie who lost his contact lens, once scored in a game against Livingston, his goal kick assisted by the wind as it found its way from one end of our ground to another. Marciano is married to a supermodel and now lives in Musselburgh, a very unsupermodel type of place, as fine though it is. But undoubtedly my favourite of recent times has to be Conrad Logan, Mr Incredible himself, for his time, unlikely as it was, became one of heroes.