I’m not very impulsive. I usually think on things then never act on them. Occasionally I do but there’s usually a day trip involved somewhere along the line. A few weeks ago, I was in East Lothian for the day, a fine visit to my home county on a pleasant sunny Sunday afternoon. We had just been to Tantallon Castle, possibly one of the finest castles on this great planet of ours, and were driving to Pressmennan Wood when on impulse I asked my dad to stop the car at a place called Pitcox, not far from Dunbar. The reason I did was because of an old signpost that stood at the road junction there, produced by East Lothian County Council at least before 1974. The signpost marked four directions, towards Stenton, Garvald, Gifford, Pathhead Farm, Halls Farm, Bourhouse, Spott and Dunbar. I can’t quite explain the attraction of the signpost beyond I just like the link to the old-fashioned way of doing things. East Lothian is still a very old-fashioned sort of place and there are a few of these signposts dotted around the county, including one in the very heart of Haddington on the junction of Station Road and West Road. In this age of sat-nav and Google Maps, navigation by instinct, knowledge and simple guiding seems to have gone by the wayside. The world is deeply complex and all we can do as people is find something to relate to, even if it might not be totally obvious. It’s the psychogeographer in me that made me stop. There are wonders to be found in the unlikeliest of places. The Impressionist Camille Pissarro said it best:
‘Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where others see nothing’.
I realise I haven’t written so much here about psychogeography. I became interested in it a few years ago after reading some articles on the subject by the novelist Will Self who walked from his house in west London to New York, or at least from his house to Heathrow then from JFK into Manhattan. I think Will Self is up his own arse – he tends to throw spanners into the dictionary and use a polysyllabic word when a decent, shorter one might do – but psychogeography struck a chord with me. It is a French Situationist concept come up with by a philosopher called Guy Debord, who sought to make sense of the anonymous big city by getting lost in it on what he called a derive or aimless drift. His big city was Paris. Mine was Edinburgh.
The capital of Scotland is a city I know very well. I was born there, I went to primary school there. I’m even going there tomorrow to see Hibs. One of the reasons I know it so well is because when I used to go on day trips, all I could often afford was to go to Edinburgh and explore. I often went on derives around the New Town, often starting on Dublin Street by the Portrait Gallery and seeing where I ended up. Waverley Station was inevitably my final destination but it was the getting there that made it interesting, following psychogeographical concepts and taking random left and right turns. I haven’t been on such a walk for a while but I still turn off on a tangent from time to time even when I supposedly have a fixed route in mind to follow. The other week I was heading to Easter Road and walked up Leith Walk since I was running early. I ended up taking a diversion through the New Kirkgate shopping centre (less said the better) and found Trinity House museum then ducked through the very fine and springlike South Leith kirkyard.
The project I started a few weeks ago, Streets of Glasgow, has a psychogeographical dimension to it. I’ve lived in Glasgow for nearly four years but I still haven’t scratched the surface of it yet. Far from it. The walk on Buchanan Street was brilliant, a few snatched minutes in a lunchbreak from a training course, and I hope to get out some more in the coming weeks. In the meantime, there are always new things to spot when looking the right way, like the ghost sign I spotted on Nelson Mandela Place walking back from the bus station the other week.
Just shy of a year ago, I went to York, one of my favourite cities. One of the highlights was the National Railway Museum, which I always refer to affectionately as the most autistic place on Earth. In the Station Hall was a signpost which tickled me when I saw it then and sums up much of my outlook on life. One direction points ‘To the glorious and unknown’. It might be just a little bit impulsive but that’s all good with me.
Before I forget, very soon, probably some time in June, will be the 300th post on this here blog. I like to mark these things, as with The things I love are not at home and Post 101: Talking, so for the first time, I am going to crowdsource what I write about for the 300th post. So, if there are any suggestions, based around what tends to appear here, please do let me know, either through the comments section or by other means if you know them.