Best of 2017


Yay, it’s Christmas time! In this time of repeats and newspapers full of filler material, here’s a blog post written a fair bit ahead of time with the highlights of my year travelling around this fine land. Like last year and the year before, this post sums up my 2017 with some awards for the best experiences I’ve had this year. There are eight categories:

Best museum

Best art gallery

Best historic place

Best library

Best place to watch football

Best fish supper

Best park

Best beach

2016 was a very busy year for me. I also covered more ground than this year. I went to England a lot more and also to Ireland. This year I haven’t been that far. Far enough but not enough to earn Airmiles, if such a thing still exists. I have been very busy with work. I now work full-time. I am also studying and writing a lot. In between all that, I go to the football and try to live a rich and full life, occasionally succeeding in that regard. This year has been a consolidation of those things I am and enjoying those places I love, occasionally getting to new ones along the way.

Best museum –

National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh –


The National Museum of Scotland is a place I know very well, having visited regularly since I was a kid. I’ve been known to slag it off but my recent visits have brought me back in love with the place and its great and varied exhibits. I am always due a return visit but that’s always the case, even if I’ve only been there the previous day or week.

Runner-up –

McManus Galleries, Dundee –


A very fine place. It has art in it too but I think of it more as a museum. Very fine it is too, with a clear sense of Dundee and its place in the world as well as giving a broad appreciation of its local area, in its history, science and nature. The hall upstairs with artefacts from various societies is glorious, while the room downstairs about the modern history of Dundee is excellent, with the cases on local politics a particular highlight. Go to the McManus, if only for the cafe and of course the architecture.

Best art gallery –

Kirkcaldy Galleries, Kirkcaldy, Fife –


My favourite gallery on the planet. I have that in common with Jack Vettriano, the Leven-born artist who lists his two favourite art galleries as the Uffizi in Florence, and Kirkcaldy.  I went there on my birthday this year. I tend to get there at least three or four times a year, never getting sick of the 19th and 20th century art in its rooms, including the glorious McTaggart paintings and those by the Colourists and Glasgow Boys. McTaggart’s wave painting is endlessly soothing, while those of Iona take me back to that wonderful island. The Glasgow Boys exhibition at Kirkcaldy this year was excellent too, a selection of Fife’s own collection, creatively put together.

Runner-up –

Fergusson Gallery, Perth –

The Fergusson is always a favourite, even just for its building, an old water tower by the river Tay. It is like Kirkcaldy in that it is clear the curators are on the ball, putting together each exhibition with a great deal of thought and care. I was there a few weeks ago and enjoyed the exhibition about Fergusson and his friend, the architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

Best historic place –

The Battery, Victoria Harbour, Dunbar, East Lothian –


This was the hardest category this time. It could have been about three different castles or the walls at Berwick. In the end I picked the Battery because it is a place at the heart of my own history as well as being steeped in the history of where I grew up. The Dunbar Shore Neighbourhood Group has done an excellent job developing the Battery, putting in some apposite and beautiful art installations as well as interpretation boards about the surrounding harbour, sea and history. It was truly brilliant to be there and I long to be back again.

Runner-up –

Dryburgh Abbey, near St. Boswells, Scottish Borders –


I tend to get to Dryburgh once a year and usually it is on a beautiful summer’s day. This year’s certainly was and I loved just wandering around the stunning ruins and sitting awhile by the Tweed, reading and pondering. Scottish and British history intertwine at Dryburgh with the Abbey being the burial place of both Sir Walter Scott and Earl Haig. Even without the history, it is one of the great places of Scotland. Thank goodness it is a wee bit hidden away and it isn’t more crowded. Plus it sells ice cream.

Honourable mention –

Seton Collegiate Church, near Longniddry, East Lothian –


A return visit to Seton, which I had only been to once previously. Worth it for the peace, architecture, book-stuffed cludgie and little, apposite quotes dotted around the site.

Best library –

Glasgow Women’s Library –


Libraries are sacred places and the GWL particularly so. It nestles in a fine Carnegie library building in Bridgeton, recently restored, and houses a considerable archive and museum collection, in addition to a fair few books into the bargain. A truly amazing place, plus they offer you a cup of tea when you walk in.

Runner-up –

The National Library of Scotland –

Purely for the exhibitions. NLS do good exhibitions, most recently the one about the Antarctic. It’s always worth going to the Treasures gallery, usually housing manuscripts and books about authors, including Hugh MacDiarmid recently.

Honourable mention –

Any library I work in –

Well, obviously. The people make the place, ken.

Best place to watch football –

Easter Road Stadium, Edinburgh –


No Scottish Cup Finals this year. I just have to settle for the two derby victories I had the pleasure of witnessing from my very lovely seat high up in the East Stand.

Runner-up –

East End Park, Dunfermline –

Purely for the steak bridies. Never mind the football.

Best fish supper –

Tailend, St. Andrews or Edinburgh –

The Tailend is one of the finest chip shops in the nation and they have two branches, one in St. Andrews, the other on Leith Walk in the capital. A very decent fish supper can be had there, best consumed on a bench nearby.

Runner-up –

Giacopazzi’s, Eyemouth, Scottish Borders –

One from my youth. I’ve been there a couple of times this year and they do a very decent fish supper, best consumed looking over the harbour.

Best park –

John Muir Country Park, near Dunbar, East Lothian –


I had a particularly good walk in this dear, familiar place in April, ending up at Hedderwick before turning back towards Dunbar. The walk was varied, with views across the Tyne towards Tyninghame, the Bass and the May, as well as old WWII-era bunkers and of course loads of trees. It washed my spirit clean, in the best possible sense.

Runner-up –

Benmore Botanic Garden, near Dunoon, Argyll –


I was there in the rain but it was still amazing. The walk amidst the sequoias is braw.

Honourable mention –

Lochend Park, Edinburgh –

I often sit in Lochend Park before Hibs matches, most recently a few weeks ago working through a book with a fly often thwarting my progress. It is an urban park but one with a view to Arthur’s Seat and of course the Holy Ground.

Best beach –

Embleton Beach, near Embleton, Northumberland –


I was there in January. The beach is in a beautiful setting, overlooked by Dunstanburgh Castle. The path goes on for a fair few miles, running along the beach from Low Newton eventually to Craster. It is hard to successfully encapsulate how wonderful a place Embleton is. Go. Look at a photograph if you can’t go. It is one of those places.

Runner-up –

Bamburgh Beach, near Bamburgh, Northumberland –


Again, there in January, overlooked by a castle, though with incredible views to Lindisfarne and the Farne Islands. Cold, very bright day, blessed in that baltic afternoon to be alive.

Honourable mention –

Belhaven Beach, near Dunbar, East Lothian –


Where else? My favourite place on the planet. I couldn’t not mention it here.

So, that’s 2017. After I wrote the historic place section, I realised I didn’t mention two of the best places I’ve been to this year, namely Kilchurn Castle in Argyll and Dunnottar Castle, near Stonehaven. Both in very dramatic settings and with fascinating histories. Of those places I hoped to get to in 2015 and 2016, I managed to get to Dunnottar and Tantallon this year, still not to Oxford, Bristol and Stornoway. In 2018, I hope just to be able to travel anywhere. In an ideal world, I would love to get back to Northumberland but also finally to make it to Shetland. This year has been a rollercoaster ride, busy but worth it for the experiences I’ve had and the people I’ve met.

As ever, many thanks to all readers and followers for reading, commenting and everything else. It has been a privilege. If you celebrate, a very Merry Christmas, the best of wishes if you don’t, and a very peaceful and prosperous New Year when it comes. See you in January.

The Harbour

Dunbar’s Victoria Harbour was built in 1842. The New Harbour, as it is still known, was hewn out of the Castle rock and it is still used for a small number of fishing boats and a fair few yachts. The Battery was recently redeveloped with some nice interpretation boards and art installations. For more information, please see these posts from earlier in the year. It is a place I know well, having lived a couple of streets away as a kid.

I like harbours. The harbour mouth is an opening to the world. The mouth of the New Harbour has a great view not only across the Forth to the Bass Rock and the Isle of May and also much closer to the remaining ruins of Dunbar Castle, once one of the great castles of Scotland. It was where Mary, Queen of Scots fled to after the Battle of Carberry Hill in 1567. It was demolished by order of the Scots Parliament the following year. The stones from the castle helped to build the harbour and many of the houses on the High Street.

These were taken the last time I was in Dunbar, back in October. I hadn’t been to the harbour for a good few years. I was glad I went, if only to see the familiar from another angle, as if at sea.

A bit of blog business before I go. In a few weeks time, I will be posting here for the 400th time. To celebrate that, like with the 300th, I’m opening it up to suggestions. The 300th was about library carpets and the scarcity of public toilets, incidentally. Feel free to put a comment below or send an email.

The Living Mountain

At the current moment, thanks to the wonders of Google, the most popular post on this blog is It’s a grand thing to get leave to live, a post influenced by the appearance of Nan Shepherd and her line ‘It’s a grand thing to get leave to live’ on the Royal Bank of Scotland five pound note. Nan Shepherd’s best-known work is The Living Mountain, published late in her life after being put in a drawer for thirty years. It is a wonderous book and I’ve read it a good few times now, most recently a couple months ago. Should I ever be consigned to a desert island, and I don’t think Kirsty Young has any plans to do so, it would be the book I would take. Never mind the discs, the book’s picked out. I have never actually been to the Cairngorms but this book about the experience of being in the mountains resonates in so many ways. Nan Shepherd was a skilled writer as well as mountaineer and there are a few incredibly well-crafted phrases in The Living Mountain. My favourite is from the preface, written in 1977, about the validity of the tale itself:

‘That it was a traffic of love is sufficiently clear; but love pursued with fervour is one of the roads to knowledge’.

That was just a throwaway line at the end of a preface talking about the changes to the Cairngorms over three decades and about the delay in the book’s publication. It is the best line and one that sums up human experience in just a few short words.

One of the best parts of life I find is discovering other people with shared passions. Niche interests are great, those that are a secret to most folk, of no interest to most, probably, but I like it when things I like become popular. Nan Shepherd was mentioned twice in the recent feminist essay collection Nasty Women (published by 404 Ink), once in an essay about foraging by Alice Tarbuck and the other by Chitra Ramaswamy about pregnancy. The latter point was a very intriguing one about how the female experience and pregnancy in particular should be written about in a ‘sensual, aimless’ way, much as Nan Shepherd did about walking in the Cairngorms. Alice Tarbuck’s essay about foraging talks about how Nan Shepherd wrote about going into the mountains rather than simply going up them, as many male writers do, writing more about the self rather than about the landscape around them. As much as this book broadened my perspective about the world generally, it also gave me a greater sense of Nan Shepherd and her effect and influence on other people and in areas beyond what she wrote about.

I am greatly looking forward to reading Charlotte Peacock’s biography Into The Mountain: A Life Of Nan Shepherd, published recently by Galileo Publishers, which the critic Alan Taylor notes has offered ‘a portrait of an enigmatic and elusive woman’. There were quite a few Scottish female authors working in the middle of the 20th century who are now obscure, shamefully, and we need to bring these writers into greater focus, including Jessie Kesson. Nan Shepherd said it best, as so often, when she talked about the hills, ‘Yet to listen is better than to speak’.

A bit of blog business before I go. In a few weeks time, I will be posting here for the 400th time. To celebrate that, like with the 300th, I’m opening it up to suggestions. The 300th was about library carpets and the scarcity of public toilets, incidentally. Feel free to put a comment below or send an email.

Ice, ice baby

Obvious title, I know, but I wanted to write a bit about the weather here in the Wild West lately. It has been cold. Very cold. It is December so it is inevitable. We haven’t had cold like this for a few years though. We occasionally have snow, we mainly have rain. At the moment we have a whole lot of frost and ice, plus temperatures that rarely rise above freezing. I don’t mind the cold but the ice is beginning to get to me. I walk very fast normally, out of inclination and sometimes anxiety, and slipping and sliding along the pavement just stresses me out. I even fell over and hurt my wrist a couple of weeks ago (not severely, I have to add; it’s fine now) but that was probably down to inadequate footwear than anything else. After that I just lost my confidence and from being an aggressive pedestrian, I’ve become a timid one, looking carefully along the pavement seeing which parts sparkle or which bits have a veneer over them, slowing down or speeding up. It makes going out into the world even more challenging, feeling and fearing that I’ll fall down. I know I’m not alone in that – there are a lot of people who are finding it tough to go outside right now. My street is particularly bad, located in a dip with not much natural sunlight. The City Council does send gritters along occasionally but the suburbs are less of a priority than the city centre. Fair enough, even while more people live outwith the city centre. Their budgets have been cut considerably in recent years so they have to prioritise. I just have to prioritise wearing sensible footwear, that’s all.

More positively, the cold makes things beautiful. We haven’t had so much snow here in Glasgow but the frost and ice has made it seem very wintry, the icicles hanging from tree branches and all that stuff. Almost like Christmas, some might say.

Photograph taken below the Esplanade, near Pittodrie Stadium, Aberdeen, on 16th December 2017, c. 11am

 

Power

DSCN2648
Prestongrange

In 1174 the monks of Newbattle Abbey got a charter from King David I to dig for coal at Prestongrange. History doesn’t record if the monks dug for the coal personally but for the next 800 years or so that part of East Lothian, around Tranent, Prestonpans and inland towards Musselburgh and Midlothian, was built on coal. Bricks forged from the clay that came with the coal went to build the town houses of Edinburgh’s New Town and even to Jamaica. Until recently, coal still played a crucial part in the economy of East Lothian, right until Cockenzie Power Station closed in 2013. By then, it was one of only two coal-fired power stations left in Scotland, the other, Longannet, just up the Forth near Kincardine, closed in 2016. For two years, the chimneys of Cockenzie still stood high against the landscape until eventually they were levelled in the summer of 2015. They had been a familiar part of my life for as long as I could remember, passed twice a day as I went from where I lived in Dunbar to primary school in Edinburgh. Even after I moved to Glasgow and coursed down the A1 or sat on a train as it speeded by, the chimneys at Cockenzie were still there. The chimneys seemed like they could be seen from space. They certainly could be seen from all around, from Calton Hill and Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh to Gullane, even from the Fife coast at the other side of the Forth. Then one day they were gone. They fell with an embrace and then swiftly to earth in a hail of rubble and smoke.

I walked by there recently. I hadn’t been to Cockenzie for a few years though I liked to visit the harbour there and Port Seton along the way. The space where the Power Station once stood is now a vast crater, fenced off with dire warnings for safety and security pinned to the barriers. The only part that still survives, being worked at by demolition crews, is a turbine building. There have been talks about using the site for a combined cycle gas turbine station or for a cruise ship terminal, to tap into new technologies or just the tourism industry that increasingly fuels our country’s economy. As I walked along the coast road that day, it just felt eerie. It also felt sad. Cockenzie was a coal-fired power station and it was one of the major polluters of Scotland. It was also a major employer and people lost their jobs in an already quite deprived area. A place that bustled with activity now had just a handful of workers. It had reinvented itself before, though. The power station had been built on the site of Prestonlinks Colliery, one of two collieries at either side of Prestonpans at one point. It will certainly do so again if Scottish Power get their way and the combined cycle gas turbine station emerges.

DSCN0654
Dunbar. I don’t have a picture of Torness. Torness is to the south or over the hill.

The East Lothian coastline, like that of the Forth more generally, was dotted with power stations. One functioning power station remains, Torness, near Dunbar. The stories and memories remain of others that once dominated the landscape. I remember being at a Jack Vettriano exhibition at Kelvingrove a few years ago, standing in front of a painting that depicted a courting couple standing by a power station’s chimneys, Methil in Fife, now also demolished. The painting’s label noted that this painting was an historical record of a place that was no longer there, with couples having to go elsewhere to satisfy their yearnings. Portobello in Edinburgh is now seen as being a trendy seaside enclave within the capital with house prices to match. It once had a power station, though, looming high above the flats and businesses of Seafield, Porty and Joppa. Apparently its chimney was a landmark that reminded Edinburgh folk they were close to the beach. There’s a photo on Canmore, Historic Environment Scotland’s website, from 1980 when the power station’s demolition was in progress, of the shell of the building standing in front of the tenements of King’s Road, with rubble all around the foreground. Today it is all houses and a five-a-side football complex. There is a restored pottery kiln nearby, a reminder of an even earlier past of textiles traded across seas. But not much trace of the power station that once powered the homes of the city beyond.

Torness Power Station is hard to love, regardless one’s feelings about nuclear power. It is boxy and stands starkly on fields close to the North Sea, still in East Lothian but close to Berwickshire. Torness is in a stunning setting. From the surrounding walkway, part of the John Muir Link from Dunbar to the start of the Southern Upland Way at Cockburnspath, it is possible to see for miles and miles, to the Isle of May and Fife, to St. Abbs Head and Siccar Point, all from a vast concrete sea wall. Torness can also be seen from afar and when it is passed, be that on the A1 or the train, it is, like Cockenzie was, a landmark that home is near, even if my home is now further away than just the few miles to Dunbar.

DSCN2613
Soutra
DSCN2599
Soutra towards Edinburgh

The Lammermuir Hills sit above Torness, separating East Lothian from the Scottish Borders. Recently I stood at Soutra, at the western end of the Lammermuirs overlooking East Lothian and Edinburgh. Soutra was once a medieval hospital, run by an Augustinian order. I looked towards Cockenzie and of course the chimneys were gone. The many pylons remain. In those hills are not gold but wind turbines, an ever more familiar part of the landscape today. There is very little historical about wind turbines. They are controversial, aesthetically and for their effect on wildlife and the surrounding ecosystem. Most power generation is. Cockenzie, like Longannet, like Methil, was on the list of the top 10 polluters in Scotland. Torness harnesses nuclear power and that has its great share of dangers. In 1174, coal was the answer. Now, it isn’t so certain. The skyline has changed considerably over that time with power stations having sprung up and been demolished all along the Forth, mines dug low into the earth and millions of tons of coal brought up to fuel homes and factories. Walking around today, there are still some traces of this, even if now they are mostly just memories growing more vague with each passing day.

Source and further reading –

Canmore (Historic Environment Scotland), Portobello Power Station, view during demolition, accessed via https://canmore.org.uk/collection/1308748

The places you end up caring about

Recently, Coventry was named as the UK City of Culture for 2021. Coventry beat out Paisley, Stoke-on-Trent, Sunderland and Swansea to the award, which was announced live on ‘The One Show’ one Thursday night in December. I work in Renfrewshire and so became very much aware of the City of Culture bid through my job. I followed the bid’s social media presences and I genuinely thought they would win. The night the winner was announced, we got it on at work and I was actually nervous about it. I am not from Paisley. I’ve never lived there. Still it was like waiting for the outcome of a job interview or a cup draw. Apparently I wasn’t alone. The next morning’s Herald had an article which quoted a journalist who was at the Paisley 2021 bash at UWS as saying ‘I’m not even from here and I’m feeling nervous’.

It got me thinking about how my life has changed in recent years. I grew up and spent the majority of my life living in East Lothian. For the last four and a bit years I’ve lived in Glasgow, working in and around the city over that time. I have come to care about quite a few places, even to the point that I actively rooted for Paisley to be UK City of Culture. I came across a post from this blog from a year or two ago when I defended a part of Dumbarton from a Twitter account called ‘Crap Views’. As I recall, it was a Chinese takeaway in Dalreoch. It always smelled good when I went past on the way to and from work. I defend Glasgow against all comers too. It is my home now. I think that the places around you change you, even if you don’t realise it.

I was sad Paisley didn’t get to be the City of Culture for 2021. The bid was very well done with an incredibly diverse programme of activities going on over the last couple of years, bringing in a lot of people from the town and Renfrewshire more generally. I am glad, though, that there will be a legacy from the bid, not least in the new Paisley Museum, its store and the Central Library, amongst many other things. Paisley has a lot of good things about it, not something I thought I would say a few years ago.

The turn of the year

Yes, it’s December. The lights are up, the adverts are on, the end of the year is in sight. The daylight is brief but vivid. The night lights are garish. At the moment, it’s cold, bracing and just plain baltic. The leaves are on the pavements and yet autumn is behind us. Winter is upon us.

I find this time of year difficult. I like natural light and the fact we have had cold, bright days recently helps me get over that it’s dark before ‘The Chase’ comes on. I also heartily dislike the Christmas build-up. I like the day, the time off is wonderful. I don’t like that it starts earlier and earlier. Plus the forced jollity. Plus the lights and the loudness. I was stood, thankfully in daylight, by the Edinburgh Christmas extravaganza in Princes Street Gardens for a few minutes the other day and it was bad enough. The cheesy 80s pop music being pumped out the speakers was possibly in breach of the Geneva Convention. This time of year is hard for a great many people. It’s a time for reflection as the year slows down and it can be about what we don’t have rather than what we do. The newspapers last Friday had a statistic about how 60,000 older people in Scotland will spend Christmas on their own. Too many people are lonely in our society. There will be many people just wishing for January. I’m definitely one of them.

This year I have almost a fortnight off. Last year I managed a couple of day trips over the time and greatly enjoyed the quieter buses and trains. A few years ago, I even went to Dublin right at the very start of January before I went back to work. This year the football fixture list has plonked three Hibs games between Saturday 23rd December and Saturday 30th December. Between those I hope just to sleep, read, write, spend time with my family. I am genuinely indifferent to presents – I also have far more stuff than I actually need – so I will enjoy other people’s instead, since as ever you can’t buy inner peace or world peace. A freezing cold day in North Berwick, which I enjoyed last year, or a trip anywhere else is worth more to me than anything you can wrap up in paper, in any case.

December is the end of the year. A new year will begin soon. As we look back, it’s nice to look forward too, resting up for the new adventures that will soon ensue. The piercing blue of the sky this time of year is enough light for me, never mind all the bulbs and LEDs.

Further reading –

The Humanist Society of Scotland publish a very good newsletter called Humanitie and they have an article in the current issue about how humanists celebrate Christmas. On the website, they illustrate the article with one of the ways I like to celebrate the festives, the wonderful ‘Muppet Christmas Carol’. Here’s a link – https://www.humanism.scot/what-we-do/humanitie/humanists-celebrate-christmas/

Books of 2017

A place where I read this year. Sitting by the river Tweed at Dryburgh Abbey

I like books. I give them to people for a living. Some words I wrote even appeared in a book this year. I have too many books. I still seem to acquire more. I have instructed relatives not to buy me books (or anything) and they don’t listen. Books are a very good thing, whether digital or in print, and now and then I actually get to read some. Usually that’s when I’m travelling. Since it’s near the end of the year, I’ve decided to share some books I’ve liked this year, no less than seven, which is of course the most magical number according to the Harry Potter universe. Plus it was a famous Hibs scoreline against Hearts. Doubly magical.

Some words I wrote in a book. Download your copy today!

These are in no particular order and reflect simply the order in which I remembered them. Two were by female authors, two by the same publisher. Four were by Scottish authors. One I bought a decade ago. Four of them actually came out this year. Unlike the Book of the Year lists that appear in the papers, I have no stake in any of these books. I don’t know their authors personally. Since I don’t have a literary agent, I can hardly share them with one of these people. Some of them, shockingly, have been out for a while. In short, I just like these books. So, let’s begin.

Nasty Women, by various authors, edited by Heather McDaid and Laura Jones, 2017, Edinburgh: 404 Ink – 

Nasty Women is a collection of essays about what it means to be a woman in the 21st century, covering a panoply of subjects including class, race, politics, religion, sexuality, and foraging, amongst others. I read it and there were times I felt uncomfortable and aware of my privilege as a white cisgender man, times when I felt angry and even times when I felt inspired. This year I have bought three copies of this book. I donated one and I own two, one on eBook and the other in print since I don’t take a tablet when I go to the football. It was deservedly the bestselling book at the Edinburgh International Book Festival this year. Read it. It’s a good start for making any sort of sense of the world right now.

Hings by Chris McQueer, 2017, Edinburgh: 404 Ink – 

404 Ink also published probably my favourite book I’ve read this year, or for a long while. I first became aware of Chris McQueer on Twitter. His book of short stories, Hings, came out in July and I bought a copy. I took it to the football and had to stop reading it on the train as I was laughing so hard and I got looks. It is incredibly warped and inspired. Another one I own two copies of. Plus I bought one for my dad. And I have a copy of the recently released zine of stories that were cut from Hings. I love Glasgow and Chris McQueer’s Weegie stories just make me love it more.

The Passion of Harry Bingo by Peter Ross, 2017, Dingwall: Sandstone Press – 

The title article of The Passion of Harry Bingo originally appeared in issue four of Nutmeg, a Scottish football periodical I am partial to. It is a rather cheering look at why quite a few of us go to football each week, slightly affectionate but not mocking. The star, Harry Bingo, sadly died just after the book was published – he supported Partick Thistle and had been going for at least six decades. Peter Ross writes feature articles for much of the Scottish press and this is the second collection of them, including drag artistes, Herring Queens (not the same thing), Common Ridings, the Bass Rock, Ramadan and the business of a sex shop. It is a good cross-section of our great country, gathering, as Hugh MacDiarmid wrote, ‘all the loose ends of Scotland…attempting to express the whole’.

Now We Are Dead by Stuart MacBride, 2017, London: HarperCollins – 

Stuart MacBride writes crime novels set in and around Aberdeen. That shouldn’t put anyone off. Aberdeen might not be Las Vegas, it might not even be that nice, but Stuart MacBride writes cracking books. Now We Are Dead features one of his main characters, the recently demoted but still utterly great DS Roberta Tiberius Steel. MacBride even used his recent experience on ‘Celebrity Mastermind’ to title the various chapters of this one in the style of AA Milne. (I hope they repeat it. His wide, sarcastic humour was a great antidote to John Humphrys.) The world seems a bit more twisted, but utterly better, when DS Steel is on the go, even if Logan didn’t appear until the end and even if she still can’t get the right type of bra.

Saturday, 3pm by Daniel Gray, 2016, London: Bloomsbury – 

I read Saturday, 3pm on my lunch break one Saturday I was at work. As I finished it, I Tweeted in praise of the book, as I often do, and how it made me feel better that I wasn’t getting to Easter Road that afternoon to see Hibs play Falkirk. (I missed a cracker too. James Keatings scored a free kick to win the game in the 90th minute. Poor Peter Houston. What a shame.) Daniel Gray proceeded to Tweet me back, thank me and say he was going to that very game that afternoon with his daughter, which was incredibly random.

Saturday, 3pm is a collection of fifty short essays about the footballing experience, from the programme to away games and everything else in between. I could relate to a lot of it, especially those bits where Hibs got a mention. His newer book, Scribbles in the Margins, which is a collection of fifty essays about books and reading, is similarly joyful.

Mountains of the Mind by Robert Macfarlane, 2008, London: Granta – 

Robert Macfarlane first came onto my radar a long while ago when he wrote an article about John Muir in the Guardian. He writes brilliant books about nature, The Old WaysThe Wild PlacesLandmarks and Holloways, plus the introductions to some of John Muir’s books and The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd, which is the book I would take to a desert island. This one was his first book and I’ve had the same copy for years. I remember buying it not long after it came out in a bookshop that doesn’t exist any more, Borders in Fort Kinnaird, on the outskirts of Edinburgh. I started it and didn’t finish it. This happened more than once until a few months ago when I finally resolved to read it in full. Macfarlane is best when he’s writing about where he’s been but this one is more literary, not a bad thing with lots of references thrown in to reflect what it’s like on a mountain and how people have written about it over time. When one of Robert Macfarlane’s books comes out, like with Stuart MacBride, I stop everything. Landmarks came out and I had two copies on the go, eBook and print, until I finished it. His books broaden one’s appreciation of the world, simple as that.

My copy of The Finishing School by Muriel Spark

The Finishing School by Muriel Spark, 2016, Edinburgh: Canongate – 

I’ve been on a Muriel Spark kick lately. I’ve gone off to Edinburgh today with another of her novels for the train. Ian Rankin wrote recently that:

Her books are like a Tardis, they are much bigger on the inside than they are on the outside.

I was told once that reading Muriel Spark would help me learn how to write. Her novels are small but perfectly formed. Her essays are class too. The Finishing School I read and liked, despite not caring that much normally about the goings-on in a boarding school in Switzerland. I came for the writing, the one-liners, the characters and the fully enclosed world therein. There is a new exhibition just opened at the National Library about Muriel Spark and I can’t wait to get through to Edinburgh to see it. Here’s a blog post about Muriel Spark from a few months ago.

So, that’s our show. I’ve really enjoyed writing this post, not that I don’t usually but the words just flowed that bit easier. Before I go, an honourable mention must go to the two books I have by my bed that I’ve started but not finished yet: Turning: A Swimming Memoir by Jessica J. Lee and The Shepherd’s Life: A Tale of the Lake District by James Rebanks. Our post today has been soundtracked, for what it’s worth, by Skipinnish, Dion, John Martyn, Kacey Musgraves, Foster The People, Runrig and the Monkees. Now you’ve read this, pick up a book or two!

Clearing out my inbox

Whenever I see an idea that might work for my writing, I usually send myself an e-mail. Sometimes they come from Twitter or the Internet more generally. It means that my inbox gets clogged with potential ideas, some goers, others really not. A wee while ago I wrote a post which sought to get some of them out there – Commonplace inbox – and I felt it’s time to do it again. Some might still appear in a post sometime in the future, however, but I have the feeling the time might have passed for others.

Forth Bridges from Silverknowes

At the start of September, the new Queensferry Crossing opened, the third bridge across the Forth between South Queensferry in Edinburgh and Fife. It’s a stunning structure, fitting in quite well with the existing Forth Road Bridge and the mighty Forth Bridge, the one with the trains. Everybody and their granny in the Scottish press was writing about the new bridge and briefly I was going to but didn’t get round to it. One angle, covered in The Scotsman, was about how 50 years ago the Forth was traversed by a ferry, only stopped by the opening of the Forth Road Bridge.

Berwick

Another potential idea was derived from a piece from The Daily Telegraph, entitled ‘Why do so few people visit Berwick-upon-Tweed?’ Since I read it, I’ve been to Berwick and I have a lot of time for the place more generally. It is a strange place, not quite Scotland, not quite England, and it has a lot of fine buildings, plus the views to the Cheviots, Bamburgh and Lindisfarne as well as out to sea. LS Lowry went there for his holidays. Plus it has a brilliant old-fashioned stationers where on my last visit I bought an OS map which got put in a black paper bag. Go to Berwick.

I also had a notion to write about the Caledonian Sleeper, the night train that runs from London to various parts of Scotland. I’ve been on it three times, from Edinburgh to London in the seats then from Glasgow to London and back in a bed, which was a fair bit more comfortable. The seated journey was memorable because I didn’t sleep at all. Get a bed, if possible. It was worth it, however, because I was then (and still am) an Open University student and at some ungodly hour I saw Milton Keynes Central out the window and waved at my university’s campus as I passed by. My preferred mode of travel to London is an early train down then the last one back, since at least I can sleep in my own bed without the juddering of wheels over train tracks.

Steve Silberman is an excellent writer, writing with insight about autism, amongst other things. I follow him on Twitter and in my inbox just now is a link he Tweeted to a TED talk with the wonderful heading: ‘Why autism is sexier than you think’. It can be, in the right context, you know. Good lighting in my case.

Sticking with Twitter, I follow the nature writer Robert Macfarlane, who has recently taken to Twitter with charming missives about words and their resonances. Much nicer than all the other miserable bollocks happening in the world right now. Two recent favourites are ‘geophany’ and ‘genius loci’, defined as an epiphany of insight about a particular place and the atmosphere and character of a particular place respectively.

Kevin McKenna writes for various newspapers including The Scottish Daily Mail (boo, hiss) and The Observer. I don’t always agree with his politics but I’m a believer you should read folk you disagree with. One of his Observer pieces that struck a chord with me was about whether Scotland’s islands are experiencing a resurgence due to tourism and infrastructure advances. I also have in my inbox just now a brilliant feature article from Susan Swarbrick in The Herald about the plane landing on the beach at Barra, something I would dearly like to see one day.

Partick Subway

I also have quite a few articles and links about this great city of Glasgow. Two relate to a Streets of Glasgow walk I would like to do but haven’t managed yet along Cumberland Street in the Gorbals, which has some interesting architecture and public art. I also have a link from the excellent History Girls about murals in Possilpark Library, which I still haven’t seen – read their blog for more details. More controversially, an article also nestles in my inbox from Friends of the Earth about air pollution on the Glasgow Subway. In the pipeline, so to speak, is an idea I’ve had to walk the length of the Subway above ground so that will be relevant for that. What might also be relevant is an article from BBC News where the owners of the bus company McGills complain that government should do more about getting folk on buses than trains. In some of that, they have a point, though as a frequent user of McGills services myself, I would humbly suggest they stop making passengers their enemy and consider giving many of its drivers customer service training plus in some cases route knowledge.

VisitScotland recently announced that they intend to close 60% of their tourist information offices across the country. There is an element of sadness in that, since folk will lose their jobs and there will be some who will lose out on information about Scotland who may not have Internet access or a phone signal, come to think of it. I myself have used their services regularly over the years, though not for a while, plundering their stocks for the occasional day trip idea or bus timetable. Their staff are always very helpful and knowledgeable so it’s a shame that VICs will be closing. Then again the iCentre in Glasgow seems to move every year which seems counter-intuitive.

I think that’s my inbox a fair bit emptier now. I’m not sure how to keep it from filling up again, maybe saving links to Facebook instead or just writing them down in my notebook. Or simply reading less but I’m quite sure that won’t catch on.

Why the south side is the best side

The other day, I was scrolling through Facebook and I saw a sponsored post from People Make Glasgow, the city’s marketing bureau. They were asking for suggestions of why folk should visit the Southside, as opposed to the West End, city centre, Finnieston or wherever. I think I can oblige. Off the top of my head, I can suggest the Tramway, Pollok Park (including the Burrell and Pollok House), Crookston Castle, Holmwood, the Scottish Football Museum, Cathkin Park, Queen’s Park, the Citizen’s Theatre, Shawlands, Battlefield and Bellahouston Park. Again, that’s just off the top of my head. Oh, and the Govan Stones and Scotland Street School Museum. Now, I’m done. The Glasgow Science Centre, I forgot about that.

The best views of the city come from the south too. Just yesterday, I was on the bus down to Govan and passed over the M8 right by junction 25. There is a cracking view of the city skyline, to the Science Centre, city centre and Park Circus. Bellahouston Park has good views and should be best this time of year because of the trees losing their leaves. Even the back of the shopping centre in Castlemilk has a cracking vista. The best views, and all year round too, must be from the flagpole at Queen’s Park, right the way to Ben Lomond, the Campsies and across much of the south, north and east of the city, plus to the Cathkin Braes, Cathcart and Castlemilk if you turn the other way. What Patrick Geddes called the synoptic view is definitely possible there and I like to go there and just watch the city go about its business.

The south of the city is architecturally great too. We’ve got Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson and Rennie Mackintosh, sphinxes on top of buildings and all sorts. Down here we even have concrete and brutalist architecture, which characterises a lot of cities but here it takes us somewhere nice. Home.

Above I gave a whole long list of places that people should visit here in the Southside. I keep coming back to the Tramway in my head. When Glasgow hosted the Turner Prize a couple of years ago, it was held in the Tramway. Even if the exhibition was a bit mince, though thankfully the social enterprise from Liverpool won it, it was still in Glasgow and all the glitterati came to the Southside. I just like buildings with different purposes than those originally intended and a tram depot turned into a theatre and art gallery is just pure dead brilliant, by the way.

Despite having lived here for a while now, I still know Edinburgh better than Glasgow. I feel more comfortable wandering around many of the capital’s streets than I do in my home city, especially in the city centre. The Southside, though, is more comfortable. Well, mostly. There are some bits I would rather avoid but that’s the case everywhere. Since I’ve lived here, I’ve discovered some brilliant places, some of them now treasured places I keep going back to again and again, like Cathkin, like Pollok Park. Mostly I find the Southside less claustrophobic than the rest of the city, with fewer people and more trees. This city is known as the Dear Green Place, after all, and a fair whack of our greenery is south of the river. Also, we market ourselves on Kelvingrove, the Riverside, GOMA, People’s Palace, the Duke of Wellington statue and George Square. I would love to see more of the Southside in our tourist brochures and bedecking websites and social media. Even our fellow Glaswegians should come down here from time to time, for Southside is definitely the best side.

Before I go, an apology. On Sunday, it was noticed that some photographs were missing from some posts, including the new post that day, Streets of Glasgow: Edmiston Drive. This appears to have been due to my attempt to tidy up my WordPress Media Library, which deleted images from posts. I have worked over the last few days to tidy up those posts where blank spaces are appearing instead of photographs. I apologise for any inconvenience caused.