Digest: June 2017

This month I haven’t been terribly far. Just working a lot, living life, all that jazz. I’ve had to look at the photos on my phone to see where I’ve been that’s worth noting. On 2nd June, I was at the dentist. Just before I went in for my scale and polish (no fillings required), I had a wee turn around Elder Park, donated to the people of Govan by Isabella Elder. I have written a post about Elder Park, which will be published on the blog in late July, I think. I don’t get down that way as often as I used to, even while it is barely a mile away.

Elder Park

The following night I went out to dinner in Glasgow city centre. I had time to kill before my train home so undertook one of the Streets of Glasgow walks down Queen Street. It wasn’t my favourite of the series but I particularly liked the building above Greggs.

Billy Connolly mural by Jack Vettriano in Dixon Street, Glasgow

Friday 16th June I went on the trail of the Billy Connolly murals. I went on the bus into the town, along Paisley Road West as I sometimes like to do, just observing the city going about its business. I liked the Billy Connolly murals immensely, particularly the Vettriano one. I walked from the third mural, the Rachel McLean one on the Gallowgate, and down through the Gorbals to start another Streets of Glasgow walk, this time down Cathcart Road. I just felt like walking and I enjoyed watching the world change past my feet. I sat in Cathkin Park a while and noticed that it was looking very overgrown, though some of the posts have been painted green and white for some unknown reason. Third Lanark played in red so goodness knows. After that, I did the second Streets of Glasgow walk of the afternoon, this time along Battlefield Road, which despite being familiar was enjoyable and yielded a lot of interest – post appears sometime in the next couple of weeks.

Cathcart Road

That Sunday was the day of the Open Day at Easter Road and it got considerably warmer and sunnier as I travelled eastwards. Easter Road was mobbed but it was good to be back. I wrote about it the other day. Afterwards I walked up to Ocean Terminal, changing into my new Hibs top as my T-shirt was drenched in sweat. It was really too warm. I got a bus to Elm Row and then another out to Prestongrange, my old work, where I wandered about Morrison’s Haven before sunbathing for a bit. I then headed over the way for a walk around the site, reliving old times and trying to imagine what had once happened there. A real Carlsberg sort of day.

 

Easter Road
Prestongrange

Most of the rest of my photos for June reflect that I worked nearly all of the rest of the month. When I was walking home one night, I stopped on the flyover at Cardonald and noticed how I could see for miles across the city, to the University, Park Circus and the riverside at the Science Centre. I like a view like that, not quite synoptic but good enough.

View across Glasgow to Science Centre

Today I was in Dunfermline, really just for lunch, then went home via Edinburgh. It was nice to be out of the routine, even for a little while.

View from Dunfermline to Forth Bridges

July looks set to be interesting. I am away for the day tomorrow and football starts again so I will be out and about across the country. I have a few days up for grabs and I have annual leave at the end of the month too. Maybe a Streets of Glasgow walk or something else. We’ll see what happens. Until then, thanks again to all readers. Post on Sunday is about the greatest band in the world, The Proclaimers. Stay tuned.

Posts published this month –

Digest: May 2017

Walking in cities you don’t live in

Seaweed

Streets of Glasgow: Queen Street

Clipboards

Edinburgh Waverley

Sir Billy

Real men

Suggestion box

Streets of Glasgow: Cathcart Road

20 years on from the Philosopher’s Stone

Wallace and Gromit

Easter Road

 

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Easter Road

Lego version of Easter Road

Recently, the Hibernian Historical Trust had an Open Day at Easter Road. The Trust opened the ground to hundreds of us as part of the Leith Festival, laying on exhibits and trails and all sorts. I have done the tour before – it was a Christmas present a couple of years ago – but I never like to pass up a trip to Easter Road, especially since it’s still the close season and I am starved of football, or at least football played the Hibs way. I had been humming and hawing about making the trip, especially on a Sunday when normally I can’t be bothered to venture far. But still I did and when I reached Albion Place and turned towards the West Stand where the tour started, the queue was almost up to the Ticket Office. Soon, though, I was inside and going up the stairs into the stadium. The queue didn’t let up pretty much the whole way around the West Stand and the Players’ Lounge was absolutely stowed out with people. There was a danger of getting overwhelmed for most of the time I was there and so I took my time going around the exhibits as the crowds slowly faded away. This was particularly helpful when I reached the Gallery and I read the panels about the early days of the club. There is a guy who has been making Lego models of most of the football grounds in the UK – he’s on Twitter at @brickstand if you care to look. Anyway, he has made one of Easter Road, which the Club had on display, and it was fantastic, with lots of details that made me marvel about how dedicated people can be. Or absolutely bonkers, depending on your view.

East Stand
Famous Five and East Stands
Blankets

A later part of the route led me into the Boardroom, which has some interesting exhibits including a new display about the Scottish Cup Final. I didn’t get much chance to look as it was still mobbed and I decided to take full advantage of the next stop being the Director’s Box and take a breather. On the way I took particular delight in spotting the heavy tartan blankets gathered carefully in a basket by the door. Those of us who slum it in the East Stand don’t get those, that’s for sure. The Director’s Box is right in the centre of the West Stand and their posteriors are treated well there, not only with blankets but soft black leather seats. I sat for a while at the edge of the Director’s Box and looked across the stadium, watching the steady line of people pass along the touchline. I also just liked being at the ground again. It’s not even been two months but when a very consistent part of life isn’t there for a while, it’s hard. Being able to just sit there, look out and catch my breath was immensely enriching and valuable, to keep myself enjoying my day and to be in one of my favourite places.

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That’s me
Between the West and South Stands
Easter Road

The Hibernian Historical Trust do very good work. I drew on some of it for the recent post Hibstory. They have worked closely with the club to make the very modern Easter Road more steeped in the club’s history. The press room has a display about the Hands Off Hibs campaign, when Hibs nearly merged with Hearts back in 1990. Each of the other rooms in the West Stand is stuffed full of Hibs memorabilia and they made an extra special effort for the Open Day, including my personal favourite artefact, the Persevered banner that bedecked the open top bus the day after the Cup Final, signed by the full squad. This I saw on the way to the dressing room, which is quite cosy and basic, then to the TV interview room with one of those lovely ad boards where I got a selfie. Then out the tunnel to the dugout to get a good look from the player’s point of view to the hallowed turf. Ever more people were around me but I still managed to get to be on my own to get photos of the stadium from different angles. I love architecture and once I wanted to design football stadiums. That’s not what I want to do as a grown up now but I retain an interest.

East Stand
Arthur’s Seat
East Stand concourse

If Easter Road has a fault, it is a very boxy ground, with the stands pretty much identical. Aside from where I sit and possibly the upper section of the Famous Five Stand, there isn’t much of a view. From the back of the East Stand, though, the top of Arthur’s Seat soon came into view and even with the heat of the day, there were still loads of people climbing up the hill. I walked up the East Stand and it was there that I felt like at last I was at home. Later in the day I went to Prestongrange, where I used to work, and I had the same feeling of utter contentment of being in the right place as I did being back in the East. I sit in the middle of the East so I don’t normally see the bits of the concourse at either end. There is an elaborate drawing of the club’s badge, with the harp and castle, at the southern end, and also some prints of the programmes of important Hibs games around the walls. In the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this year, the East concourse is being used to host a play called A Field Of Our Own, about the early days of Hibs, produced by Strange Town in conjunction with the GameChanger Public Support Partnership. It is a massive space and I look forward to going along to see how it’s used to its best effect for the play, as well as to enjoy the play itself.

From there I went along into the Famous Five Stand and through the concourse into the club shop. Along the way there was another great queue for folk to get photographs with the Championship trophy as well as those recently won by the Hibs Ladies team.

For many people, football stadiums aren’t fun places to spend a Sunday afternoon. Fair enough. It is the people who make a place. I was thinking earlier about how I have become more of a Hibs fan since I moved to Glasgow. It is a deep link to my identity, to my roots as a person, to my family and places I don’t visit all that often any more. It’s why the other day when the fixture list for the upcoming season came out, within minutes I had my diary marked up and annual leave booked and the whole works, the next year of my life planned by the whim of the SPFL computer. It’s why I went to Edinburgh on a Sunday and went around a football ground in the close season, because it’s Easter Road and it’s Hibs and that’s just what had to be.

 

Wallace and Gromit

Recently it was announced that the actor Peter Sallis had died at the age of 96. He played Norman Clegg on the long-running pish Sunday night ‘comedy’ Last of the Summer Wine, but to many of us he is better known as the voice of Wallace, the inventor and cheese fanatic from Wallace and Gromit. For those poor souls who have never encountered Wallace and Gromit before, and you truly haven’t lived, Wallace and Gromit is a series of animations involving a madcap inventor and his dug who is much, much smarter than him, produced in clay by Aardman Animations and created by Nick Park. It is meant for children, really, but since I grew up with it, I suppose I can justify keeping an interest. I identify more with Gromit than Wallace, since he is silent and a rolled eye can say so, so much, but there are so many great Wallace lines. One of them appears on the mug I drink out of and it pretty much sums up my outlook on life, taken from A Grand Day Out, when they go to the moon on a Bank Holiday to look for cheese:

‘It’s like no cheese I’ve ever tasted’.

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My Wallace and Gromit mug next to my alternative mug bearing the visage of Sir David Gray

I haven’t watched Wallace and Gromit in a few years. The last time was watching A Matter Of Loaf and Death, including one of those fabulously cheesy names, Piella Bakewell. But my most recent W&G experience was at Blackpool Pleasure Beach about three summers ago. It was a birthday present. I had never been to a theme park in my life and there I was with my family at Blackpool Pleasure Beach. I went on my first rollercoaster at the age of 25. But a major highlight was going to the Wallace and Gromit ride, where you sit in a slipper and get guided around a medley of scenes and lines from the various W&G films. Quite seriously, a life highlight. Even more so was the adjoining gift shop where I spent sixty British pounds on T-shirts, keyrings and plush toys. I still wear my grey T-shirt bearing the red glove worn by the Penguin on the Wrong Trousers from time to time. Anyway, a souvenir of the day was the photo I got took with Gromit. It is one of the few photos of me in my house; one of the others is me with the Scottish Cup. We actually waited until the galoot in the Wallace suit went for a fag break before pouncing to get a photo with Gromit. It’s still on the mantelpiece, pride of place.

I’ve liked Wallace and Gromit since I was a kid. I’m autistic and having a fidget toy has always been important for keeping pace with the sensory overload that is life as I know it. When I was a kid, I used to have keyrings mainly but for a while it was a little figurine of Wallace. I lost it, though. We used to walk our dog each night across Winterfield Park in Dunbar, in all weathers and all year, even in the dark with a torch. One of those dark, dark nights, I lost Wallace. The day after I carefully combed the park though it was nowhere to be seen. Somehow when I went back to school, one of my teachers produced another one. It wasn’t the same somehow but the thought was there.

A few years ago, I had a job I didn’t like. Everyone has one on their CV. It was not long after I had been to Blackpool Pleasure Beach and on my desk was not only a photo of me with Gromit but also a Gromit soft toy. It kept me in touch with my childhood side and looking to Gromit from time to time reminded me of happier times.

When I heard about Peter Sallis’s death, it reminded me of the place Wallace and Gromit has had in my life. Off-the-wall humour, quirky and detail-orientated, the world is the richer for it. As it was for the life of Peter Sallis.

 

 

20 years on from the Philosopher’s Stone

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British Library, home to a Harry Potter exhibition later in the year
Today marks the 20th anniversary of the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the first of the Harry Potter books that came to utterly change children’s literature and send countless folk in search of Platform 9 3/4 and the Hogwarts Express. It was only after the third one came out that I ended up getting into them but every one after that saw me eagerly seek out a copy on publication day. Indeed when Deathly Hallows came out I spent that day with the book in one hand and looking up occasionally to talk to museum visitors. I re-read them at least once a year, usually digitally, and while the Harry Potter universe is one of my lesser interests, I could probably verge on the obsessive if I was of a mind to. I am reading them again at the moment but only because I can’t face anything new right now the book I read over lunchtime today notwithstanding.

It’s hard to put into words just why I like Harry Potter. I don’t watch the films all that often – they’re fine but honestly I prefer the books – so it isn’t visual. It is the world, the details that keep me interested, that every dimension of the world is perfectly realised on the page. I don’t particularly want to live there or anything. The real world is often preferable, though we could do with a Harry type to slay some of the Voldemort-esque politicians about just now. It is an escape for a moment, a human world but just a little bit extra special.

I very frequently quote one of the Five Laws of Library Science, devised by S.R. Ranganathan in 1931, namely every person their book. We should never be snobbish about what people read, as long as they read. Reading is vital for any sort of success in life. It connects us with people in all sorts of ways. It’s why I never look down my nose at library users who borrow Mills and Boons or Fifty Shades of Grey or biographies by YouTubers or reality stars. As long as people read, then I’m happy. I know there are folk who look down at Harry Potter and to be honest I would quote back to them Ranganathan. Every person their book. I’m lucky I have many books. I’ve written about some of them here. I wouldn’t take the Harry Potter series to a desert island with me. But reading them has given me a great deal of pleasure and enjoyment for most of my life, since I was about 10 in fact, as Harry was when he learned he was a wizard and headed for Hogwarts. Reading truly is magic.

 

Streets of Glasgow: Cathcart Road


For a few minutes, I wasn’t sure if I was actually on Cathcart Road. I had walked from the city centre through the Gorbals to where I thought Cathcart Road started, by the Brazen Head pub, but it was only when I checked Google Maps and a nearby bus stop that I was certain I was in the right place. The first Cathcart Road sign didn’t appear until I had crossed the motorway, well into the walk. This walk was the first of the Streets of Glasgow series to brave the south side of the city, a grievous oversight since I actually live south of the Clyde, and Cathcart Road was picked owing to its proximity to the city centre but also because it crosses a fair bit of the south side in its 2-mile stretch. I hoped it would be interesting and so it proved pretty much immediately as I came up to the ruined Caledonia Road Church, which had been part of a project called Stalled Spaces during the Commonwealth Games in 2014 and still had signs of development behind a fence. The frontage is stunning, an Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson design with Greek and Italian touches. In all the time I’ve lived in Glasgow, I never stop being surprised by the beautiful buildings I encounter in all parts of the city. The Gorbals and Govanhill, where I would be in a few minutes, are both places with more than their fair share of problems though they also have a fair few cracking buildings.

Caledonia Road Church
Caledonia Road Church

Across the road was the head office of First Glasgow, the city’s main bus operator. First aren’t the best though they are better in Glasgow than they used to be in the east coast. It says it all, though, that the two cars nearest the entrance were both Jaguars. Perhaps they are washed just along the road in a car wash dubbed World’s No. 1, which made me wonder how these things can possibly be measured objectively.

First depot
Car wash

Govanhill is one of the most ethnically diverse places in Scotland and it very swiftly showed as I crossed the motorway in the great variety of people around me from all parts of the world. The shops also gave a clue, with considerable culinary choice, including at least two that served up both sweets and kebabs, an odd mix but one I could understand given that some Muslims have very sweet teeth. The displays in the clothes shops around Allison Street are incredibly vivid and colourful and I enjoyed just looking around me on this part of the walk. Having said that, Govanhill also is a place many people don’t feel comfortable lingering in. I walked at a steady pace, interested in my surroundings as ever but hastening on nevertheless.

Clothes shop on Allison Street
Diversity of shops in Govanhill

When I reached Albert Road, there was a noticeable difference, as if that was where Govanhill stopped and Crosshill began. The buildings even changed colour, the older red sandstone tenements giving way for a bit to more modern grey and white clad houses. The railway bridge above Crosshill Station was more traditional, though, the product of good old Victorian engineering in Motherwell. I soon came to Cathkin Park, a place I know well, once the home of Third Lanark, now a park with terracing being slowly taken into nature. I paused there only to take a photo – it is on Cathcart Road, after all – but returned a bit later to pause, ponder and scribble notes from this walk.

Cathkin Park

A few minutes later, I came to the junction with Prospecthill Road and thus into Mount Florida, the street red sandstone like Govanhill but a bit more affluent and posh Western, including the peculiar juxtaposition of a trendy chip shop with a cheesy name like Hooked. Also there was a gift shop which had window displays marking that Father’s Day was coming that Sunday, including the immortal legend, ‘My Paw Is Pure Braw’. Now, I don’t know if anyone in Scotland, let alone this city, outside of The Broons, refers to their faither as Paw but I know that referring to something as ‘pure’ is a Weegie expression while ‘braw’ is an east coast word, with most usages in Glasgow probably by me. It’s a linguistic and dialectical mishmash but it’s a nice one so we’ll let it slide this time.

I forgot about the cheesy pun on the other window

Before the walk finished, I had two more good buildings to look over. One was Mount Florida Primary School, an old fashioned Victorian schoolhouse in red sandstone like so many others in both Glasgow and Edinburgh, while the other was the Clockwork Beer Company, which I am told is a fine drinking establishment, with a cupola and elegant decoration on the gable in the centre. As I reached Holmlea Road, still short of Cathcart but the end of its Road, I thought on how I had enjoyed my walk a lot, the longest of these walks so far but also the most diverse in a lot of ways, taking me through at least four distinct parts of the city in just shy of an hour. There were a few ideas of places to read more about, like the Caledonia Road Church, but in the meantime I backtracked to Cathkin, leaving the city street behind for a few minutes for the eerie still of the park.

Suggestion box

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All many writers want is to be read and I am no exception. Writing is such a crucial part of who I am that sometimes I want to share what I write or what I am thinking about with people. Lately I have been able to share what I’ve written with an even larger audience, particularly the recent posts on the Glasgow Women’s Library and my Hibs historical walk. Recently, I have had two suggestions for blog post ideas, which unfortunately probably won’t fill a full blog post each but blended together in an unlikely way might work. They are the sparsity of public toilets and the design of carpets in Glasgow public libraries.

The first one is personal for me since I have IBS – as written about last year in IBS, my gut and travelling – and finding a toilet is sometimes a matter of urgency for me. I know, however, that not all public toilets are that nice or indeed that common around, particularly in big cities. I was talking to one of my colleagues about this and she has a mental map of where toilets are in Glasgow city centre, based on past experience, which I think is eminently sensible. A lot of public toilets have disappeared due to spending cuts in local councils and so finding one tends to involve being creative or taking advantage of where one happens to be to make use. It shouldn’t have to be the case but it is an act essential to success, nay life itself, as verily you have to go when you have to go.

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Believe it or not, this is the view from an urinal, at the Shard in London
The second suggestion is sort-of linked as one place that does have a public toilet is the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) in Glasgow city centre. GOMA was once the Stirling’s Library and it houses a branch library now but I don’t think its carpet is that picturesque. Some of Glasgow’s libraries have incredible carpets, some based on locality like Elder Park and the Glasgow Women’s Library, others are just plain psychedelic. I worked for Glasgow Libraries for two years and I came to know some of the best ones, like Pollokshields, Cardonald and the Mitchell Library. Sadly I don’t have pictures of these but I believe the Mitchell Library’s carpets even have a Facebook fan page. When I left Langside Library, I was presented with a tote bag bearing the carpet’s design, which was greatly appreciated since I always have a use for a tote bag and also that my erstwhile colleagues listened some of the time while I blethered on. Libraries are places with personality, of those within them as well as of the place itself. I have had the great pleasure to work in some old ones, some not so old, and each has a character. It just takes spending the time.

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Elder Park Library
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Glasgow Women’s Library
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Langside Library tote bag. Limited edition
The blog is 300 posts old or 22 months in actual time. Some of the posts have been good, some all right, others mince. I like to write the longform essays the best and there have been a few crackers this year so far, particularly from the Streets of Glasgow series but also Real men and Hibstory. I have also been trying to branch out and I will be sending out a couple of pieces for competitions in the coming weeks. Thanks to all readers for their comments and for being here. It is appreciated, believe me, and keeps me going forward. Onto the next 300.

Real men

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Our topic today is masculinity. Now, this isn’t a subject I have ever written about before but I saw a Tweet earlier, Retweeted by CALM (the mental health charity otherwise known as the Campaign Against Living Miserably), from the deodorant company Lynx as part of their new advertising campaign, which asks the question ‘Is It OK For Guys…’ to do various things, listing various questions that folk Google, as in ‘is it okay for guys to be the little spoon?’ (Whatever gets you through the day.) Another is ‘is it okay for guys to have taller girlfriends?’ (Who gives a stuff as long as you are happy?) The point of this advertising campaign is to raise a discussion about what constitutes masculine behaviour and make the point that people should be who they want to be. I wouldn’t raise an argument on that score. As a public service, I would like to answer some of the suggested questions on the Lynx For Men website. I should point out that I do not in any way endorse Lynx (indeed I don’t use their product) but I like this campaign. So, here we go!

Is it okay for guys to be skinny?

Now, this one does affect me. Despite not being the most diet-conscious of guys, I am quite skinny. It’s genetic. That doesn’t give me too much pause, except perhaps when standing next to bulkier guys with muscles and that. I do use the gym a couple of times a week – a recent innovation which I surprisingly enjoy a lot – and I feel physically better for it (and maybe even look a tiny bit better). For a long time, I have been self-conscious about my appearance but I am learning slowly but surely not to care. In short, I think that as long as people are healthy, it’s all good.

Is it okay for guys to wear pink?

Yes. Pink was historically considered a masculine colour and it is a pleasant colour. Again, whatever gets folk through the shift. I’ve been told red suits me as a colour and I have a long-sleeved T-shirt which could be considered pastel red, even pink in the right light. I don’t massively like pink as a colour but that’s a style choice, not because I consider pink overly feminine.

Is it okay for guys not to like sport?

Sure. I like sport. I love football. But I know quite a few guys who can’t abide sport. That’s fine. They have other interests and things that make them interesting, perhaps more so than those of us who spend sizeable amount of times watching 22 men run about a field or even worse 30.

Is it okay for guys to be depressed?

Undoubtedly yes. Depression doesn’t respect gender just as it doesn’t any other factor like wealth, sunshine or anything else. Samaritans and Breathing Space are incredibly valuable services.

Is it okay for guys to be friends with women?

I think so. Women tend to be more understanding and patient than men a lot of times, even with dolts like me.

Is it okay for guys to wear skinny jeans?

It depends on your comfort. I had a pair of skinny jeans a few years ago and they were so uncomfortable I swore off them for life, particularly after a day trip I took to Orkney. It was a brilliant day but the chafing just isn’t worth the style points. In any case, I looked a choob in them.

Is it okay for guys to cry?

Absolutely. I don’t cry very often but I have done, many, many times. I cry when I see a particularly affecting news story. When Hibs won the Cup last year, I cried rather than invading the park. I cried watching the Cup Final DVD the first time. I cried when I got offered my job. It makes you more of a human being because it shows you care.

Is it okay for guys to hug?

It doesn’t stop football players or sportspeople of most sorts. Like most things, it depends on the situation. But generally speaking, yes.

Is it okay for guys to do yoga?

I know at least one who does and it helps them deal with a physical job better.

Is it okay for guys to experiment with other guys?

Whatever works. Sexuality isn’t fixed or certain for a lot of people. People should feel comfortable in who they are, even if they aren’t sure quite what that is yet.

Is it okay for guys to be nurses?

Yes. Personally, if I was ill, my only concern would be getting better, not the gender of the person treating me.

Is it okay for guys to pee sitting down?

Not to be too graphic, I pee standing up, but whatever works.

Is it okay for guys to say I miss you?

Of course. Honesty goes a long way and if you care about someone, it just underlines it.

So, what makes a real man? From experience, it comes down to decency. A real man treats people with respect regardless who they are. They listen, they care. They go about with honesty. It’s not about bravado. It isn’t about the size of their appendage or their bank balance, about pecs or chin dimples. A person’s worth shouldn’t be measured by just their appearance or their IQ score. It is about character.

I am not the most ‘masculine’ of men. I don’t live up to a lot of stereotypes. So what? If I suddenly tried to be someone else, I wouldn’t recognise myself. I try to be pleasant to everyone whenever and wherever possible. That’s all that counts. I care only to be happy and to help others along the road, irrespective of gender or any other factor. I don’t intend to think too much about being masculine. I care only to live life to the fullest. Like a real man.

Sir Billy

BBC Scotland occasionally comes in for some stick. It is either too Glasgow-centric or too pawky and provincial, too pro-SNP or too Unionist, for or against Celtic, Rangers, Hearts, Hibs and any other group. The commissioning editors down at Pacific Quay have managed to produce no fewer than three programmes in the last few weeks which have been right up my alley, about the history of Paisley, the Proclaimers and Billy Connolly. That’s not to mention that Sportscene will soon be graced once more by the Hibees as they return to the Premiership. With Billy Connolly, they have played a blinder, producing a trail of three murals of the Big Yin around Glasgow city centre in conjunction with Glasgow City Council and Art Pistol Projects. The programme about the project played out on Wednesday. I went to see the murals yesterday. This morning, the Queen’s Birthday Honours came out and Sir William Connolly arose. I am personally against the honours system but for Sir William, and the posthumous award for PC Keith Palmer, I will make an exception. I would rather it was them than arms dealers and other shady characters like politicians.

Billy Connolly has long been a hero of mine. In my teens, I became very interested in comedy and amassed a considerable collection of Billy Connolly CDs and DVDs. He just has an incredible mind and can make almost anything funny, even the Parkinson’s disease he lives with. Laughter is vital for life and over many years Billy Connolly’s words have made me howl over and over again.

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The murals were produced by three Scottish artists, Jack Vettriano, John Byrne and Rachel MacLean, and appear in three locations in Glasgow city centre. Vettriano’s scene of Billy in Wick is on Dixon Street behind St. Enoch Centre while Byrne’s is nearby on Osborne Street. Rachel MacLean’s more outlandish one appears on the Gallowgate, just along from the Barrowland Ballroom. Yesterday I ventured into town by bus, getting off by Central Station and walking back along the river to Dixon Street where I encountered the Jack Vettriano mural, which depicts Billy Connolly, beard-less, standing on a clifftop near Wick while on his World Tour of Scotland in 1994. I was glad I encountered this one first as I know Vettriano’s work the best from his exhibition at Kelvingrove a few years ago and also from Kirkcaldy Art Gallery. In the documentary, Vettriano came across as an utter groupie when he was shown meeting Billy and that was rather sweet, Vettriano utterly awestruck to be in the presence of the great man. I liked this one the best, to be honest, particularly for the grey sky with tinges of white and blue. It looks much better in person than on the TV. Vettriano is a man of the east, albeit many miles south in Fife, so he kens the score with the sky. The mural was in a beer garden and there were a few others snapping and at least two selfies. At that point, I beat a hasty retreat.


At the other side of the St. Enoch Centre is Osborne Street, mainly a place to get a bus to outlying parts of the city but also a vast open space with car parking between all these shops. I came across the John Byrne mural all of a sudden, just turning my head and it was there. I liked this one for its honesty and details in sketching the lines and contours of Billy’s hair and face. There was a crowd of people snapping this one, all in a line down the pavement. I snaffled the best spot as the crowds quickly dispersed.


Rachel Maclean’s mural is the most outlandish and probably the closest to Billy Connolly’s more off-the-wall fashion sense. It is on the Gallowgate, just along from the Barras and the Barrowland Ballroom. It is the furthest from the city centre and so the one I had to myself for the longest. Inevitably the same couple I had seen at the other two swiftly appeared at my heels. This mural has a lot going on, a lot of subtle and not-so-subtle allusions to Billy’s routines over the years, as well as a modern background of a Glasgow street by night, lit by the sodium of a chippy. Appropriately, though, as I walked away I got a waft of a chippy frying on the wind. This one has my favourite story and style, even though it is also the most bonkers. In a good way.

Of the three, my favourite is the Jack Vettriano, the nicest in person if not on screen. That might have been coloured by his demeanour in the documentary as well as the sky which played to the east coast boy in me. All three murals, though, are a very fitting tribute to Billy Connolly in his 75th year, a much better honour than a medal could ever be.

Sunburnt on Arran

This is a rare Thursday morning post since I still have a backlog of posts and I want to write some new stuff! Here’s a story about an adventure to Arran a few weeks ago.

Growing up on the east coast of Scotland, it isn’t very often that the sun is warm enough to get yourself burnt. I was an indoors sort of person anyway so my skin turning any colour apart from its usual pale pastiness or acne-infused red was a very rare event. If I have been sunburnt, though, it has usually happened in the most unlikely of places. A few years back, I had a day trip doubleheader one weekend in May, to York on Saturday and Lochleven Castle on the Sunday. I came back from Kinross, of all places, bright red. The morning after I was on Arran recently, I looked in the mirror and saw that my forehead and nose were roughly the shade and hue of your average postbox, not at all expected when heading off some place on a CalMac ferry.

I had been to Arran once before, a couple of years ago, randomly enough on Easter Sunday. That day was beautiful and sunny though naturally I came back just as pale as normal. We had walked out of the ferry terminal at Brodick and turned right along the front, ending up just below Brodick Castle before we headed back and on the ferry again. This time I had ventured the view that perhaps we would turn left instead of right and see where we ended up. This was promptly changed as the ferry drew closer to Brodick by the left side bearing a couple of builder’s yards while to our right were Goatfell and a generally idyllic mountain/woodland sort of scene. We turned right, onto a street that we could walk down, and soon ended up by the golf course looking back towards the mainland and the ferry already coursing back to Ardrossan.

Before this trip, I had been looking at my OS map and thinking up possible ideas for our 3 hours or so on Arran, including a trip up to the north end of the island to see Lochranza Castle, since it was a castle and it was there. Three hours isn’t enough to do much more than wander and follow our noses, especially as we ended up in the grounds of Brodick Castle, sat on a bench looking down across the gardens and Brodick Bay below. Brodick Castle was shut but we weren’t fussed – it is a National Trust castle with a roof and everything so not our style – so we just sat and pottered about the grounds, up to a sequoia tree and to a reconstructed Bronze Age roundhouse, following the trails and admiring the flora before making our way back to the boat.

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In retrospect, it might have been sitting on the ferry in the middle of the Firth of Clyde that gave me the sunburn. More likely the way over since the return leg was cloudy and cooler, the Ailsa Craig not visible as it was on the way out. It seems a small price to pay to just be on a ferry and set sail, to watch the land grow faint on the horizon then disappear as a new mass comes into view. I like ferries wherever they are – even the Renfrew Ferry, across the Clyde to Yoker, has its effect – for the feeling of adventure, of being on your holidays, even temporarily. Even being in a ferry port, like Oban or Wemyss Bay with its Victorian splendour, can do that to me. Thankfully the sunburn doesn’t come with every trip or I might have to deny myself the pleasure of one of CalMac’s fine vessels sailing across the sea somewhere interesting.

Edinburgh Waverley

‘This train is for Edinburgh Waverley. This train will call at Croy, Falkirk High…’

I hear this refrain with considerable regularity, the voice of Fletcher Mathers relayed across the Scotrail service I’ve just boarded bound for the capital. Waverley is the main railway station in Edinburgh, sitting in Princes Street Gardens in the shadow of the Castle and much of the city centre sitting high above. At the end of the platforms facing towards Glasgow, you can see Princes Street, the National Gallery and the Bank of Scotland offices. If heading south, you get a view of Governor’s House, the last remaining part of the old Calton Jail that once sat where St. Andrew’s House, the Scottish Government premises, are now. Governor’s House isn’t visible from Regent Road – it is the tower that sits on a rock, pretty much only visible from the eastern end of Waverley Station. An underrated perspective you get from Waverley is when you step onto Market Street. Facing you is the old Scotsman building, now a luxury hotel. The printing presses would have been juddering to life and producing the public prints just across from the station.

The first glimpse of the capital that many get on leaving Waverley is walking up Waverley Steps towards Princes Street. Many folk of course take the escalator that was recently installed when the station was tarted up. The Steps were covered over since the top was the windiest place in Edinburgh, the product of walking up from a valley onto a busy, bustling city street. At the top of Waverley Steps, look left then right. Left you get a glimpse of Edinburgh Castle high up on its rock and Princes Street stretching out with buses, trams and all else; right you get Register House, Leith Street and up to Calton Hill, the Nelson Monument and the folly. There is also the Balmoral Hotel just right there.

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I have spent a lot of time in Waverley in my life. One of my most vivid childhood memories is from when I was a kid. I was diagnosed as being autistic when I was 6. It required several trips to the Royal Hospital for Sick Children (otherwise known as the Sick Kids) in Edinburgh. On one of them we were standing at the door of an intercity train when we were delayed because one of the roof tiles had smashed above us. I have memories of when my school class used to go to the outdoor education centre in Linlithgow and walking up the platform for the train, looked after by one of the older girls in the class. We also went on a magical mystery tour to Dunfermline, which I think I’ve written about here before, and came to Waverley the week before to sort the tickets.

As a day tripper, Waverley soon became even more familiar as most Saturdays, then most weeks, I darted from a (normally late) train from Dunbar across the station to a train some place else. When I started going to the football again, the spirited walks from Easter Road to Waverley in time for the train started too, this time late at night to catch the last train I could get for my connection back in Glasgow. Scotrail, naturally, put on engineering works later at night on that line last year meaning that the last train I could get back to Glasgow was not only 10 minutes earlier but went via Bathgate and Airdrie, taking longer.

The quickest, though not always the easiest, way to get from Dunbar to Edinburgh was by train. Trains were infrequent, mostly every two hours in both directions, though of course the last year or so I lived down there saw Scotrail introduce a more regular service. The last train to Dunbar on a Saturday night from the capital used to be 7pm. It is now about 10pm, I believe, though for many years, my day trips usually had to be curtailed by 7 so I could catch the last train home, an intercity train invariably full of folk heading for hen or stag dos in Newcastle. Or home from hen or stag dos in Edinburgh. Either way there were loads of drunken Geordies. Nice.

Regardless how often I’m there, arriving into Waverley gives me a great thrill every time. It’s a combination of being in a dear, familiar place, the hustle and bustle, the brightness from the glass roof and just the spirit of adventure even if my reasons for being there are prosaic and dull. The appeal continues even while I sometimes grate my teeth at the ‘Heart of Midlothian’ emblems that appear within the station. Waverley is one of very few railway stations named after a novel and to be fair they have acknowledged it well with loads of Walter Scott quotes, hence the hearts. The quotes are great, the endorsement of Ian Cathro’s mob really isnae. I think Network Rail has realised this and some of the station’s signs are now green, just to sate those of us on the side of the angels.

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Edinburgh is the city I was born in so I have a special relationship with the place, even while I call Glasgow, its great rival, home and contentedly so. Undoubtedly the best way to enter our capital is by train, so you can walk up Waverley Steps and hit Princes Street, even if you might want to be off it pretty rapidly. Any station named after a novel is fine with me, especially one where you can go pretty much anywhere in the country with not much difficulty and definitely one which shows off its city to its best effect from whatever angle.