Random photos

I take photos of a lot of random stuff. Sometimes they are meant for writing ideas, sometimes just because they are downright bizarre. Here’s a few of this year’s examples. Some of these, to be honest, I don’t have a clue why I took them so it might be a best guess that accompanies them.

Spicy books. This is the romance section of Barter Books, a wonderful second-hand bookshop in Alnwick, Northumberland
43? I am pretty sure this was taken along Middle Meadow Walk in Edinburgh, near the Quartermile development. Being a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy fan, I like to think this alludes to the ultimate number.
This was taken in Edinburgh, probably the same day as the last one. I don’t know what Kiss had done to the writer of this graffiti.
This is from the Streets of Glasgow walk along Buchanan Street, in fact down a lane. This was just sitting there.
This is a statue relating to the Bud Neill Lobey Dosser cartoons, which sits in the concourse of Partick Station here in Glasgow. Behind the statue is the Subway.
My phone tells me this was taken in the Lauriston area of Edinburgh and I think it is in the campus of Edinburgh University. Not quite sure of the wider context.
This is a reference to the BBC Scotland comedy series ‘Still Game’. This bookies appeared in that series and in a montage when Winston and Isa were dating. It is around the corner from Partick Thistle’s ground, Firhill, where I am going on Saturday.
This is from the Streets of Glasgow walk along the High Street. Not sure why I took this at all. Might be relating to the plaque to the left of the doorway.
Another Edinburgh one. Random. Not sure why I took it.
Another Streets of Glasgow one, this time from Cathcart Road. I found it hilarious that the World’s No. 1 car wash was in the Gorbals.
Old school bus, taken outside Berwick-upon-Tweed railway station. When I was a kid, these buses were very common and in this livery too.
Does what it says on the tin. This is another Streets of Glasgow one, this time from Alexandra Parade
Taken on a wander around the street art of Dundee
Taken on a wander back from Dens Park in Dundee. They aren’t welcome.
Taken the other week on the Streets of Glasgow walk along Edmiston Drive. An urban stereotype.

Another wee plug, incidentally, for the Nourish eBook published this week by the Scottish Book Trust, in which I have some words. It is downloadable in eBook and audiobook form from http://scottishbooktrust.com/reading/book-week-scotland/nourish/ebook. More information about my whole part in that caper in last week’s post Bridies.

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Nourish is out!

Just a quick post to say that the Scottish Book Trust’s Nourish eBook, with a few words by me, is officially out now! It is available via SBT’s website or via your local library’s eBook downloading service, if you live in Scotland. The audio version is also available via the Book Trust’s website or through SoundCloud.

For more information on my part in that whole caper, please see Bridies, published here last week.

Platform 9 3/4

Hey,

Just a friendly reminder before I get down to business that the Nourish eBook comes out tomorrow from the Scottish Book Trust website or your local library’s eBook downloading service, if you live in Scotland. It’s good, I promise, dipping in quality around page 65 but getting better again after that.

I’ve been into Harry Potter for years and years. (Previous posts on that subject are 20 years on from the Philosopher’s StoneHarry Potter and David Gray and London). The first books came out when I was a kid. I read the first when I was 10 and the last when I was 18. My birthday is not only close to Harry Potter’s but also to Daniel Radcliffe’s, who is about a week older than I am. The films are nowhere near as good as the books – the sole exception to that rule, incidentally is Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday, where Kristin Scott Thomas and Loch Laggan proceed to steal the show in the film – but the movies were constant companions, one most years with Harry and the gang dealing with the pressures of teenage years like I was in the Muggle world.


On 1st September this year, in the Harry Potter universe, Harry and Ginny’s son, Albus Severus Potter, went to Hogwarts for the first time, the subsequent events forming the basis for the play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child currently playing in London’s West End and soon to shift to Broadway. Surreally, a large crowd of people, many of them suitably attired assembled in the (real) main concourse of King’s Cross Station in London, right by the barrier to Platform 9 3/4 and counted down until 11 when the Hogwarts Express was due to leave. That’s dedication to the cause. It’s why I was a wee bit concerned recently when I was in Inverness and came across a phone box bearing the legend ‘To get to Platform 9 3/4 run directly at this sign.’ The people from the TV channel Dave tend to do quite droll and off-the-wall advertising but I rather fear that these signs will cause accidents among the considerable section of the population who still eagerly await their Hogwarts letter. There haven’t been many mishaps, as far as I’m aware, but there’s potential nevertheless, not least because Inverness is nowhere near King’s Cross to start with. I know it’s not real and all a figment of JK Rowling’s imagination but as Dumbledore says:

‘Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?’

Zines

Just occasionally cliches end up being true. One is that every day is a school day. A couple of months ago, I was at a conference. It wasn’t that useful, as it turns out, with the main benefit being able to catch up with a friend. At one point in the proceedings, I chummed my friend outside so she could get a cigarette break and I could get a sensory break. There were others outside the building getting their nicotine fix but sadly no others just getting a straight hit of being out of the room like I was. I don’t promote smoking but a lot of times the best conversations end up happening when folk are having a cigarette break. This was a library conference and the conversation turned to zines. At that point, I didn’t know what zines were and out of ignorance I asked what they were.

Glasgow Women’s Library

A zine is a self-published, often handwritten or generally low-tech publication on any topic under the sun. They have become more popular in recent years with zine libraries emerging in Edinburgh and Glasgow as well as London. The Glasgow Women’s Library, which hosted the conference I was at, does a lot of work with zines and zine making. I think they have a fair collection of them.

A zine seems to be quite similar to a fanzine, particularly popular in the 1980s and 1990s and often about music or football. Indeed my first encounters with fanzines came at the football. When I was a kid, I went to the football with my auntie and she usually had the latest copy of the now sadly defunct Mass Hibsteria (Hibs Monthly), the riotously funny, irreverent Hibs fanzine. Some of its contributors, like Ted Brack and Sandy Macnair, have since written books about the Cabbage. The last issue was a special one published around the time of the League Cup Final in 2016, which I bought a copy of outside Easter Road before a home game around the time. I just unearthed it and on the front is a photo of Jason Cummings, who now plays for Nottingham Forest, giving a ‘Come on then’ gesture to Hearts supporters after just scoring against them, with the legend ‘The Angel of the East’. Nutmeg magazine, the Scottish football periodical, featured a fanzine special in its fourth issue, with articles by former fanzine contributors who had gone on to become sports journalists, like Alan Pattullo of The Scotsman. Most clubs had a fanzine or several in the case of Dundee and Aberdeen in particular, most now gone and replaced by fan message boards and the like. One notable survivor is When Saturday Comes magazine, which doesn’t have much about Scottish football but nevertheless covers the football experience well, tending to miss out the big clubs and corporate mess that characterises our game.

When I was in my late teens, I was incredibly interested in comedy writing, particularly for television. I read a lot about American talk shows and also how The Simpsons was written. One of the most influential Simpsons writers, George Meyer, had been hired partly for a magazine he had produced with a few friends in the 1980s, more like a fanzine than anything else with a few photocopied pages circulated in a samizdat style, called Army Man. I produced a sort-of similar magazine called Daydream, with a few similar sort-of one-liner jokes, typed on Microsoft Word in Courier New font, but didn’t do anything with it. No trace survives. I did write a blog based on it, now long deleted, at a point when comedy writing felt like something I maybe wanted to do. I don’t any more.

I like the idea of producing a zine. Writing a blog is sort-of similar but coming out with something tangible and printed appeals to me. The thing is I’m not sure what to do. I was thinking just now about a short psychogeographical zine, about a walk or a journey, with pictures glued on like a scrapbook. Something came to mind there from an Ian Rankin novel. One of the main characters, Siobhan Clarke, had a line in one of them whereby she doubted there would be a magazine for her, covering music, Hibs and murders. For me, travels around cities might work, maybe beaches, waterfalls or museums. If I come up with an idea, I will let you all know, perhaps offering it up here. At this stage, it’s just an idea, a wee sideline. We’ll see.

Tea or coffee? Neither, thanks

I can count on one hand how often I have a hot drink in any given year. The British, certainly the Scottish, way is that everyone, but everyone, does either tea or coffee, sometimes both. I don’t. If I take a hot drink at all, I would take a hot chocolate. If absolutely pushed, I would choose tea but that happens on average once every two or three years. I’m autistic and one of my sensory sensitivities is food and drink that is too hot. Plus coffee is rank but that’s nothing to do with the complications of my noggin. It’s just rank. It smells nice but it tastes like metal filings, whatever is put in it.

Very often, whenever I go to training courses or cover somewhere new, I get told two things. Where the toilets are and where the tea and coffee are kept. I usually am grateful for the first but roll my eyes at the second, looking around for alternative liquid. I can think of two courses this year alone when I had to nip out and buy juice. In a place I don’t know, I have come to expect there will be minimal provision for the increasing number of folk who don’t bother with tea or coffee. I get told with considerable frequency after I say I don’t like tea or coffee that this one’s young relative or that one doesn’t take tea or coffee either. Yet people don’t cater for that. We live in a binary world, apparently. So, the rest of us have to bring our own.

Having said that, in the last few weeks, I’ve actually had more hot drinks than I have in years. It’s been cold plus I wasn’t feeling well last week. I indulged in rancid Lemsip substitutes and very much better hot Vimto, even if that’s less nice when accidentally spilled over one’s hand when trying to sit down at the football. At another football match, I had no fewer than two cups of hot chocolate in a futile attempt to keep warm. I can’t take hot drinks when they’re freshly made. Usually 10-15 minutes does me to get it into the Goldilocks zone. I understand that whisky needs to be savoured and drunk slowly in most cases. A hot drink is much the same for me. I like to taste it. With Lemsip or its imitators, however, there’s only a brief window when they’re sort-of hot and acceptable and then they go cold and absolutely honking. These have to be rushed, against my mouth and particularly my tongue’s better judgement.

Before you think I treat my body as a temple, in common with most denizens of the library world, and the museum world before that, I run on sugar. Chocolate, mainly. I don’t do much fizzy juice any more. I love Irn Bru but drinking it too late in the day keeps me up at night. Plus my IBS has been triggered by very fizzy juice in the past. I don’t do energy drinks either since they smell awful. If I need a hit of caffeine, I will go for a can of Coke but again that’s not so often.

At social functions, too, the choices can often be binary. I was at something recently and when I walked in, the choice was a glass of Prosecco or orange juice. I don’t like wine so orange juice was the default choice, even though I prefer apple myself as orange can be quite acidic. Later in the evening there was a bit more choice in the sense that there was red and white wine kicking about but still only the one non-alcoholic choice, good old OJ.

I appreciate that times are tough. There isn’t money to fund options for every taste. But something beyond the two choices, be that tea or coffee or alcohol and fruit juice, wouldn’t be hard. There’s only so many bottles of Oasis that can be smuggled into training courses without folk getting offended, or thinking I’m an alkie. Plus there must be tea and coffee sufferers who might want a change. Make it happen, folks.

Bridies

I have some nice news to share. I’ve known about it for months but finally I can share it here. Each year, the Scottish Book Trust run something called Book Week Scotland, with hundreds of literary events up and down the country over a week at the end of November. The last few years, the SBT have published a book, or this year an eBook, on a particular theme for Book Week Scotland. This year’s is called Nourish and I have a piece in it. It’s out on Monday 27th November, available from the Scottish Book Trust’s website. It should also be downloadable from your local library’s eBook downloading service, if you live in Scotland. Have a read.

Steak bridie

The story of the steak bridie begins, as most things do with me, with going to watch Hibs. The Hibees were away to Dunfermline Athletic a year or so ago and in the lead-up to the game, folks on the Hibs messageboards were mainly excited for the chance to sample some mysterious creation called a steak bridie, which I hadn’t before encountered. Their manufacturer, the Fife bakery Stephens, runs the food kiosks at Dunfermline. Being a curious sort, I pitched up at East End Park and joined the (long) queue nearly an hour before the game started. Two bridies were promptly purchased and swiftly consumed. They were utterly glorious. My next visit to East End Park again saw me get bridies.

Since then Hibs have been promoted so trips to East End Park aren’t on the menu any more. Instead whenever I go to Fife I make a point of going to a branch of Stephens and getting a bridie or two. That was what I did one day in May, when I went to Kirkcaldy, leading to the events described below:

I jumped off the bus at Kirkcaldy and straight into the bakers to get a couple of steak bridies. Even in the rain, I wasn’t caring as I did the Scottish version of al fresco dining – eating hastily on the hoof – biting into the first bridie, savouring every fibre, every molecule of the meaty pastry perfection. I paused for breath and that small second was all it took for a seagull to swoop straight in and swipe the bridie right out of my hand. It was so deft I barely saw it happen and the next thing I knew there was the said gull across the street, tearing into the remains of my bridie. I heard a boy go “Whoa!” in awe at what had just unfolded. I was just dazed, stunned, and for a moment I could have burst into tears since I had been looking forward to steak bridies all the way from Glasgow, no, for days. Instead, I merely offered a few choice expletives, laughed, then walked on like a good sensible adult. But I guarded the second one with my life and scranned it almost in one, watching left and right as I did so just to make sure.

(From the Scottish Book Trust website – http://scottishbooktrust.com/writing/nourish/story/bridie)

The threat of avian attack hasn’t deterred me, though. I’ve even had a bridie in Kirkcaldy since, and survived a marginally happier and fatter man.

Story as read at Nourish launch event, 2nd November 2017

The Nourish book is excellent, by the way, with pieces from published authors like Liz Niven and Mary Contini as well as other folks from around the country. I’ve had the distinct pleasure to meet a few of them and you should read their stories. The ones about vegan sausages, tongues, chickens and brambles, plus the onion rant, are particularly good. I’ve read it a couple of times now, the first on my iPad and the second in the very limited edition printed book copy that sits beside me now. When I read it the second time and reached my page, it hit me how amazing it was to be selected for the book, especially as part of a diverse and talented bunch of scriveners. Some of the stories are very funny, others quite poignant. I very much encourage you to download a copy, skipping page 65 should you wish. For those who are blind or visually impaired, there is even an audio version, produced by RNIB Scotland. If anyone wants a cure for insomnia, my voice has been committed to record as part of it. If you are in a cafe at an Historic Scotland property or in various eateries around the country this week, you might come across it on a rather flashy menu card. In whatever form, please do read it and enjoy.

St. Andrews

For a while, I seemed to end up in St. Andrews at least once a month. Day trips would start in one place and invariably take me to St. Andrews to get a bus home from there. The X24 Stagecoach bus from St Andrews to Glasgow takes well over two hours to cover the 73 miles but it is probably one of the nicest bus journeys in Scotland, well, if you close your eyes when passing through some of the more urban bits. The rolling fields and hills to be seen on the ride across Fife are worth taking the time to look and savour plus if you care about that sort of thing the bus also has Wi-Fi, leather seats, plug sockets and a cludgie. I don’t do the journey as often, maybe three times a year, but when I do, it’s always worth it.

St. Andrews is strange. It manages to combine the pan tiles and mercantile architecture that characterises the East Neuk with all the trappings of much larger cities and of course the diverse cross-section of humanity who call the place home, even just for nine months of the year. It’s also very historical with a castle, cathedral and tales of martyrs, Archbishops getting murdered, mines and countermines. I tend to have about an hour there, just enough time to have a wander, spend a few minutes catching up with the waves and stock up on supplies for the bus back. This time it was a bright, baltic Sunday afternoon and though I was wrapped up, keeping moving seemed the best thing for it. I walked along the street then by the Younger Hall, one building I still maintain looks more like the headquarters of Toytown City Council than a music venue and concert hall. Instead of turning left as I often do towards the Castle, I instead proceeded up towards the Cathedral, stepping into its grounds. For some reason there was a whole bunch of girls there in sports kit. They must have been absolutely frozen. I was frozen and I was dressed in layers. I took a turn around the kirkyard then wandered down to the pier, savouring the view across to Tentsmuir Forest and Angus as well as being in the proximity of waves, especially the kind being blown in and about by the wind.

From the pier, I proceeded back through the Cathedral grounds, lingering to further enjoy the low, bright November light and its effect on the Cathedral ruins. This time I did turn towards the Castle, admiring not for the first time its fine, proper castle frontage. I have been to the Castle enough times but I might be due a return visit. It was too late this time as it was preparing to shut.

All too soon, I had to head for the bus home. The last of the light receded as the bus crossed Fife, by Cupar almost completely gone, the sky a burnt orange, rendering the rest of the scene into a silhouette. This time of year, you have to take what light you can, getting out and wrapping up warm before you do. It’s always worth it, even if the cold might make you think otherwise.

Streets of Glasgow: Union Street


I had 15 minutes between trains at Central and naturally rather than sitting watching the world go by like a sensible person, I instead decided to fit in a Streets of Glasgow walk, the product of a spur-of-the-moment notion on the train as it crossed the river into the station. Union Street still felt like a bit of a cheat given how short it is but it was also a street that could be covered in a few short minutes. I stepped out of Central Station and turned left, walking back up to the junction with Renfield Street and Gordon Street to start off.

Union Street is one of my least favourite streets in the city, with incredibly narrow pavements, lots of scaffolding, fumes and usually too many people. It is always for going somewhere else, thankfully, with its many bus stops as well as entrance to Central Station, the busiest railway station in Scotland. It isn’t the nicest street in the city but it is probably one of the busiest and most vital. Like many streets in the city, it has some elegant Victorian-looking buildings but there are a few more modern ones, much more grotty on the Central Station side. One of the nicer modern buildings, on the corner of Argyle Street, houses a big branch of KFC. Above ground, however, there are mock-Rennie Mackintosh style touches with thin long vertical windows and stylistic panels below. It surprised me in the best way and made me think slightly better of the place.


Glasgow is a very in-your-face sort of place and Union Street does quite well in that regard. Architecturally, the best one is the building which houses the Co-op and a legal office. It sits on the corner of Gordon Street though the view I had with the autumn light and the adverts reflecting on the glass was actually really pleasant, a more chilled out city scene than most. The other highlight was the big TokyoToys Manga Store, which I don’t think has been there very long, which was massive and also had quite a few folk in it. Good for them but the muckle big blob character in the window is a bit other-worldly in the best possible sense. It reminded me of an advert currently on TV but I am scunnered if I can remember what it was advertising, suggesting the advert hasn’t served its purpose. (Swinton Insurance.)


I reached the corner at Argyle Street by Tim Hortons in just three minutes, very comfortably the shortest walk in this Streets of Glasgow series. It yielded far more than I thought, not least the ghost signs on the closed shops, including the old Wimpy just down from the Italian street food place. It’s strange seeing a fast-food shop become like archaeology, another layer below the surface of the street. In every city in the world, there are streets that don’t have much charm. Edinburgh has South Bridge, for example, and quite a few others. Glasgow has Union Street, one of many, but with any city street, it is worth looking beyond the obvious, up and often out, even at bonkers blobs in shop windows or above KFC with its Rennie Mackintosh stylee and the waft of Popcorn chicken on the breeze.

This is the thirteenth Streets of Glasgow post here on Walking Talking. Other nearby streets featured so far include Gordon Street, Mitchell Street and Renfield Street.

 

Non-obvious photographs of places

I like photographs. Taking them and looking at them. There are places that are photographed a lot. Of the two thirds of a billion photos taken each year that aren’t selfies, a fair few of them must be of Edinburgh Castle or Stirling or the British Museum or even Dunbar. I was just choosing a photo to illustrate a post which will appear in December about my East Lothian accent and I chose one of the Victoria Harbour in Dunbar, a scene that appears on many a postcard of my home town. It seemed right for the post but it got me to thinking of how many places suffer from having the same photographs taken of them again and again. As a public service, here are a few photos I’ve taken of fairly well-known places. Hopefully they have only been taken a few hundred times, as opposed to a few million or whatever.

British Museum
Marischal College, Aberdeen
Tantallon Castle
Dunbar
Bamburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle
General Post Office, Dublin
Linlithgow Palace

Playing for the love of the game: Queen’s Park vs Arbroath

A few months ago, I wrote a post about Hampden Park, Scotland’s national football stadium, in which I expressed the hope I would actually get there to watch Queen’s Park play at their home ground. The thought of a lower league match being played out in a 52,000 seater stadium appealed to me greatly and I hoped I could make it happen:

But I would like to see Queen’s Park most of all. The Spiders are 150 years old this year and make a virtue of being the last amateurs in the senior leagues in Scotland. They also play at Hampden to an average crowd of 645, some 51,000 fewer people than the ground’s capacity. It’s that which makes me want to go, as well as Hampden being a mere 4 miles from here. Plus it would back up that I’ve often said that Queen’s Park is my Glasgow team, owing to my deep dislike of Celtic and Rangers. I’ve checked and there are a grand total of two Saturdays this season when Hibs aren’t playing but Queen’s Park are at home, on 11th November against Arbroath and 6th January against Stranraer. Hopefully I’ll get there. I don’t imagine 645 people can roar that hard but I hope to be proven wrong.

Well, Saturday 11th November was yesterday and I was indeed to be found among the 764-strong crowd who braved a cold November afternoon in Mount Florida to see Queen’s Park beaten by Arbroath by two goals to nil. I had been to Hampden only a month or so before to see Hibs play Celtic in the League Cup and I was in the same part of the ground. They only bother opening two sections of the William Hill South Stand for Queen’s Park games with the two sets of supporters segregated. That and the numbers of stewards were probably unnecessary. Apart from that and of course the huge screens and even bigger food prices, it was quite a small operation with lots of families and a souvenir stand with strips on a rail. Plus you could sit where you liked.


I turned up about half two and after getting some pies, I grabbed a seat, half-way down the stand with a good view of the action. I am used to Easter Road where the teams are usually out warming up. By this point at Hampden, however, there was nothing doing. I was one of a handful of folk actually in the stand, even a half-hour before the game started. Queen’s Park don’t do a paper programme, instead they do a digital one, downloadable from the club’s website. I had looked earlier in the day to see if it was there but it was only when I reached Hampden that it was available. It was a decent effort, almost like a fanzine, with the usual column from the manager and a decent page about Arbroath as well as a couple of good articles about old football grounds and even older Queen’s Park games. One’s iPhone also furnished the team lines and I saw that Arbroath had Scott Martin playing, who is on loan there from Hibs. At least I recognised someone.

It being Armistice Day, the game was preceded by a minute’s silence, immaculately kept. The game began and for the first bit, the teams were quite evenly matched, though Arbroath edged it. They scored in the 17th minute, the goal from close range by Gavin Swankie, and never really looked like losing after that, especially after their second from Colin Hamilton after 55 minutes. Queen’s Park weren’t great, not really getting going except for a few half-decent runs from midfield. The home support were vocal, with a few loud cries from men and boys of ”Mon the Spiders’ or ”Mon the Queen’s’, though most of it was out of frustration at their team’s efforts. To be fair, they were mince, with the possession statistics of 48% to Arbroath’s 52% not taking account of how little they made their possession count. Their two best players were their top scorer, Anton Brady, and their number 3, Scott Gibson, who won Man of the Match. Gibson wasn’t bad at all and deserved the bottle of Irn-Bru or whatever he got from the sponsors, AG Barr.

As a neutral I greatly enjoyed my afternoon. If I was a Queen’s Park fan, I wouldn’t have been so pleased. They are now four points adrift of Forfar at the bottom of League 1, with no immediate prospect of moving from the bottom spot, especially since they haven’t won very often lately. That might not change with the visit of Dunfermline of the Championship next Saturday in the Scottish Cup. Arbroath, who climbed above East Fife into fourth, were good value for their win, working quite well tactically with Scott Martin mainly on the wing, changing sides halfway through the first 45. Their fans were quite vocal too, even branching into that perennial favourite, the Weegie song, heard from many fans whenever they visit a ground in this fine city, about how those resident here are only happy on Giro day.

Next Saturday I will be back to Easter Road to watch Hibs play St Johnstone, back in my season ticket seat and back being partisan. Being a neutral yesterday lowered my blood pressure considerably, focusing only on watching the match rather than bothering about every decision that goes against my team. When I’m in my seat next weekend, I will be checking the Queen’s Park score, though, commiserating with those poor souls who will be back at Hampden, all for the love of the game.