Streets as obstacle courses

Buchanan Street, Glasgow

Being autistic has its moments. Sometimes it has its advantages, other times it can be an absolute bastard, to use a technical term. A lot of my life can be about keeping on an even keel, not getting too overwhelmed or indeed too underwhelmed, as sometimes happens. Some of the most difficult moments can be just walking along the street, trying to figure out a route along the pavement, weaving between people and other obstacles. Sometimes I get it right, other times very much wrong. When in doubt, I tend to walk around people and things, usually at a wee bit of speed as I walk a bit fast. I do that naturally, though, despite now and then just feeling uncomfortable and wanting to get through the city as fast as I can.

An example of a particularly difficult time was quite recently. I was doing a couple of bits of business in Glasgow city centre one Saturday lunchtime before heading for the football in Edinburgh. To get between the bank and Queen Street Station required walking up Buchanan Street. On a Saturday afternoon. In the space of a few hundred yards I not only had to get through a crowd of people but also to duck and weave between charity muggers, communists, performance artists, leafleters and poppy sellers, as well as a choir singing Christmas carols in early November. Of those, the least objectionable were, remarkably, the communists. I took off at top speed, deploying my very best negative body language, and soon reached my train. I just concentrated on moving through all the people, though I also took out a pen which I kept in my hand and clicked for the part between St. Vincent Street and West George Street. I landed in a seat on the Edinburgh train and breathed a deep sigh of relief.

Walking along the street involves very quick decision-making, usually with a mix of instinct and systematic choices. I try to keep my head up but I am usually looking around for gaps in people so I can get through. I usually yield to others, even when I don’t really have to. Being quite polite and also walking fast tends to make that the most pragmatic approach.

In an ideal world, I would simply travel at times which are quieter. Or have crowds part like Moses parting the Red Sea as I approached. I lack that power. That’s probably for the best, to be honest. Sometimes I just have to get on with it, making my way through, around or occasionally over. Being autistic does have its moments. As well as making getting through cities difficult, though, it also gives me the sense of curiosity that makes me walk down streets on quieter days looking at architecture. There’s always a reason I’m there, just as there are thousands of reasons other people have chosen to be there at the same time, and we end up co-existing, albeit, thankfully, briefly.

The Bridge to Nowhere

Not far from Dunbar is Belhaven Beach, a stretch of sand that curves around the coast from the end of a golf course to the mouth of the River Tyne. It is a fine place, attracting surfers, kite flyers, walkers, their dugs and assorted bairns all year round, even when it’s baltic, which is often. The way most folk access the beach is from the car park at Belhaven by the chalets. There is a metal bridge which crosses the burn here and it is popularly known as ‘the bridge to nowhere’ since it is cut off twice a day by the tide. It is strange to see the bridge at high tide, stranded with water lapping at either side, a seemingly pointless structure plonked in the middle of a burn with absolutely no use whatsoever. At low tide, however, it can be crossed, though the faint of heart might not want to look down since only a metal grille separates one’s feet with the burn below.

Here are some photos of the bridge, some from the bridge itself, others from a distance, at high tide and below:

Streets of Glasgow: Cumberland Street

Every time I’m in the Gorbals, there’s always something different. I used to go regularly to the Citz and on my way to and from the Subway, I used to pass a tower block that was levelled a year or so ago. There is always new housing springing up somewhere as the city tries its best to reinvent the Gorbals. To set the tone, as I waited to cross Eglinton Street onto Cumberland Street, I looked at another new housing block being put up on the corner. To the left as I walked along were new-ish housing while to the right the railway arches housed garages and industrial premises. At the junction of Gorbals Street, Pollokshaws Road and Cathcart Road, there was another railway bridge and more arches, the remnants of an old railway station now all walled up. Just down the road one of those arches bears a mural depicting the Gorbals Vampire, put there in 2016 by the Citizens Theatre working with the Scottish Power Foundation.

Cumberland Street isn’t continuous and at the first split, at Laurieston Road, the buildings turn all modern. Indeed many of them are award-winning. I had just done the Sauchiehall Street walk and the Saltire Society had also accorded flats along there. The streets had a bit of litter but otherwise they were in good nick. I soon came to the first of various public artworks that are scattered through the Gorbals, Girl With A Rucksack by Kenny Hunter, a girl standing wearing a rucksack and clutching a book, apparently symbolic of the ebb and flow of people going in and out of the Gorbals over the years, the area often home to migrants from the Highlands, Ireland and parts beyond, then and now. Another of those migrants, Oscar Marzaroli, was a photographer and one of his more famous photographs is reenacted further along Cumberland Street in the form of statues of three boys trying on high heels, created by sculptor Liz Peden. The silver of the high heels is still shiny after a decade. I like Marzaroli’s work, which is reminiscent of Joan Eardley’s Townhead paintings, and captures the city and the Gorbals in particular in an earlier time.

I soon came to the St. Francis Centre, an old Catholic church now a community centre operated by Glasgow Life. Just beside it was a garden I hadn’t seen before, with letters on the railings declaring it to be the Coolest Garden. Cool it certainly was with a curved seating area and planters, as well as little quotes on the sides of the planters from old Glasgow songs and rhymes, including ‘Ye Canny Shove Yer Granny Aff A Bus’ and ‘Murder Murder Polis’, which is certainly one Glaswegians, and folk across the country, use as an exclamation. I just swear, normally. The St. Francis Centre is a massive building, dominating that end of Cumberland Street. It seems to be quite important in the community and is well-used for events. I’ve been to courses there and it’s nice inside too. I walked on as far as the Southern Necropolis, at which point the walk ended.

I had been planning this walk for months and it didn’t disappoint, a neat microcosm of what Glasgow is, the rough and the smooth, all the loose ends of the city in one place, with the added smell of fish and chips along the way. There’s always something different here, always something special in a place that might put some folk off. The Gorbals has a rep, of course it does, but it has many things going for it too, even if you might have to dodge vampires.

Sources and further reading –

Clyde Waterfront, 2008, ‘New sculpture for Gorbals’, available at

Evening Times, 17th November 2016, ‘Teenager Ella unveils marvellous mural of Glasgow legend’, available at

The Scotsman, 23rd June 2004, ‘Sculptor’s girl is right at home in Gorbals’ , available at

My inspiration to visit the Gorbals Vampire mural came from reading the Wednesday’s Child blog. Many thanks to them for the idea.

I would also encourage folk to explore the Gorbals Heritage Trail booklet produced by the excellent Glasgow Women’s Library.

This is the eighteenth Streets of Glasgow post here on Walking Talking. I also wrote here recently about Cathcart Road, which is nearby.

Walking, talking, blogging


Until recently, I didn’t take blogging so seriously. I looked at the stats but didn’t really care much about them, beyond being mildly tickled by having readers from China or Russia or Turkmenistan. I’ve made a few changes in recent months. I now post the weekday posts earlier, around 5 or 6, since the stats tell me a decent percentage of readers read at that time. I actually do the same since I tend to be commuting then, my WordPress Reader a more rewarding read than Twitter or Facebook a lot of the time. I also publish more of the travel and psychogeographic posts than I do about football, partly because I gather that the travel posts are generally better read.

This is the 394th post here. The 400th post is written and it will appear some time in the next couple of weeks. I won’t say anything much about it except to say that it’s a bit different from normal. A bit special. I loved writing it – it was actually written on a Stagecoach bus going through Fife. Anyway, before all that, this post will go into why I actually write this guff and a wee bit about the blog itself.

Belhaven. Je t’aime

I’ve been asked more than once why the blog is called Walking Talking. It is an in-joke, taking the piss out of myself. I’m from East Lothian where the ‘g’ tends to be lost at the end of words. I can’t even pronounce the name of my own blog properly. At one point last year, I did think of changing the name – I ended up changing the strapline from ‘Just another travel blog…but with buses’ to something about from Belhaven to Bellahouston – and came up with a big long list but in the end I decided to keep the name. I like it and this is my show.

The old Victoria Infirmary

Over the last 393 posts, I’ve written about a whole lot of things, from toxic masculinity to abandoned hospitals, taking in psychogeography, waves, religion, maps and a whole wheen of other topics. There’s been a whole lot of walking. Indeed the Streets of Glasgow strand is something I’m hoping to develop this year, possibly going into other media. I just write and post what I find interesting, in short what I myself would like to read. Even what I post and when depends on a whim. If I feel like a post should be out there, then it goes on. It helps I currently have 20 scheduled posts ready to go. That’s why there’s been more posts than normal this week.When do I write? This post is being written on the Wednesday night before being posted two days later. I’m sitting at home in Glasgow typing while listening to Hibs playing in Dundee. I write whenever possible though I usually do the blog posts on my laptop at home, occasionally working from notes in the case of the travel posts. I often write on a Sunday morning, which was when I used to post in the early days, writing on my phone. I am suitably experienced in scribbling ideas almost anywhere, from buses to low staffroom chairs, and some thoughts come in just a few words, others with whole lines and pieces just flowing out.What do I write? At the moment, I’m taking baby steps into seeing about writing for publication. It is a big, confusing world though I have a couple of ideas. I’ve been thinking of doing a psychogeographic zine but we’ll see. I mostly write for this blog at the moment though I also write stories which I have done for many, many moons. They’re definitely not for publication. Last year, I had a story published in a Scottish Book Trust anthology called ‘Nourish’ and that was a short piece about a seagull nicking a steak bridie out of my hand, a bit different from what I do here but it seemed to resonate with people.Who am I? I’m a guy. I’m 28. I work in a library. I live in Glasgow. I grew up in Dunbar. I’m autistic. I’m presently single. I like to travel. Football is my therapy. My favourite song is ‘Sunshine on Leith’ by the Proclaimers. My favourite books are The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams and The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd. The last book I read was Appointment in Arezzo: A Friendship With Muriel Spark by Alan Taylor though I am currently reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by JK Rowling, not for the first or even the fiftieth time, I should add. I don’t really bother with films but my favourite is Monty Python’s Life of Brian. My politics are left-leaning. That’s all I can think of.Why do I write? I just do. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been creative in some way, drawing when I was a kid, writing as I’ve grown older. It helps me to connect with people and to connect with myself. I like writing and I seem to be all right at it. That’s handy because there are times I just can’t help it. I can write for hours at times. Just this morning all I wanted to do was scribble because I had been onto a good thing with a story on the way to work. Hence I have a post backlog. I also write when I should be doing other things, which is sometimes to my detriment but I really can’t help it a lot of the time.

From ‘Hibstory’. Looking up Albion Road to Easter Road.

I take blogging seriously now. That doesn’t mean that I have experiences for the blog’s benefit, Streets of Glasgow aside. I actually do and see things that don’t grace this place. There’s times I can’t be bothered plus sometimes it isn’t that interesting. I also don’t do this for the freebies, which is good as the only freebie I’ve received in the last few years has been a press release. (It was appreciated, I have to say.) This is a personal blog and I would write it even if no one else read it. Luckily folk do. Two posts which have reached more people are Glasgow Women’s Library and Being autistic in a museum. They’re very different. The first was from May 2017 and it resulted from a visit to the GWL with my friend JA. It was inspiring and I wrote what I felt. The GWL found it and shared it. That night, my e-mail box filled with notifications. The other was from December 2015. That got shared by a museum blogger and again my Twitter notifications were numerous that day. I remember it was a cold January day and I was about to head to Edinburgh on my day off. Also shared were the football posts Hibstory, the walk I took into the history of Hibs on the first anniversary of the Scottish Cup win, and Programmes, about football programmes, with thanks to a very regular reader who passed these on to folk who know more about these things than I do. I like being read, as most writers do, and it’s nice to know people appreciate what I write. The most popular post this year, incidentally, so far is Streets of Glasgow: Hope Street, closely followed by the very SEO-friendly It’s a grand thing to get leave to live, about Nan Shepherd.A few years ago, I had what is sometimes called a portfolio career. I now seem to have a portfolio life. I blog but I also work, write and study, as well as living. I like this part of my life. I like reading the comments on the posts and I certainly like responding to them. It amazes me that anyone actually reads this guff and I’m grateful that you do. If it provides some interest, then great. The world’s a dark place and it’s good to find just a wee bit of light. This blog gives me a bit of light in my own life and I hope to keep it going for a long while yet. As ever, many thanks for reading, following, commenting, sharing, scrolling past, whatever, and see you soon.

On the way to the dentist

On the way to Elder Park

Most folk don’t really look forward to going to the dentist. I don’t either. My dentist is in Govan, not so far from the house so very often I walk. This time I was running late so the bus it was. I still managed to be a few minutes early and crossed the road into Elder Park. When I go to the dentist, I usually manage to be early despite my best efforts and a walk in the park is how I kill time. Luckily Elder Park is interesting, having been donated to the folk of Govan by Isabella Elder in 1883. One of this blog’s regular readers wrote Isabella Elder’s Wikipedia page so go check that out. She sounds amazing. Elder Park has a library which I have had the great pleasure to work in a few times as well as some nice benches and flower beds not to mention swings and that for kids. This time I stopped by the statue of Isabella Elder and looked at the benches around it, which bear various designs including of the Finnieston Crane with the rotundas on either side. I thought for a few moments about the history of boats being built here, of Victorian philanthropy and what remains, then went over to the dentist.

Elder Park Heritage Trail
Statue of Isabella Elder

Each time I am in the Necropolis, the great cemetery and city of the dead behind Glasgow Cathedral, I make a point of seeking out the graves of John and Isabella Elder, a fine tomb as would befit distinguished citizens but not as elaborate as some of the other vast lairs and graves that dot that hillside. I always say that with every subject, you need a way in, a fact or a resonance that leads you onto more, to learn more. With Govan, I know Elder Park the best and from there I will no doubt see and uncover more. We’ll see how it goes.

The May

I wrote here recently about the development of the Battery, which sits on the eastern edge of the Victoria Harbour in Dunbar. From the Battery, it is possible to see for miles, to St. Abbs Head and Barns Ness to the south, Fife, the Bass Rock and North Berwick Law to the north. The Isle of May, a long horizontal white cliff face with a point in the middle, is also visible, usually with a tanker or two nearby idling waiting for prices to change or whatever. There was apparently a traditional rhyme that boys came from the Bass Rock, girls from the Isle of May. I believe that is still to be confirmed, though it is certainly more feasible than folks coming from Mars or Venus.

From Fife, the May looks more like an island, in truth more like a whale venturing above the waves. It is about 45 minutes by boat from Anstruther and it is possible to visit in the summer months. It’s a seabird colony, also settled by seals later in the year, though it is also where the first Scottish lighthouse was built in 1636 by Alexander Cunningham of Barns, later replaced by Robert Stevenson’s Main Light in 1816. Apparently Stevenson and the Northern Lighthouse Board wanted to bring down the old light but no less than Sir Walter Scott (for it was he) campaigned successfully to keep it.

I’ve been there, maybe about five years ago, and it was fine, with great views the 11 miles across to East Lothian and back to Fife. My abiding memory is landing at the gap in the cliffs at the back of the island. It was a bright, sunny day and miraculously I avoided being shat on by one of the avian residents.

Even though I’ve been there, every time I see the May, I still get a sense of mystery. It’s irrational – I know there are puffins and other seabirds, seals and the token Scottish Natural Heritage employed human who records the wildlife and writes a blog. It’s probably something to do with the distance, with the island always on the edge of the horizon, tempting a trip. Maybe this year, I’ll need to make a return visit, just to solve any mystery that remains.

Sources and further reading –

Isle of May National Nature Reserve –

Northern Lighthouse Board –

Scotland’s National Nature Reserves –

Role models

I learned long ago that I’m not like most people. More recently, I made peace with that. All of the labels that can be attached to me, though, link me to other people. I’m a Hibs fan and a library assistant, a blogger and I like Chinese food and stovies. I like to walk and talk. I’m a member of both a gym and Amnesty International. I’m autistic and sometimes anxious. That’s off the top of my head.

I admire quite a few people. To take the first three labels, I admire Darren McGregor, who plays for Hibs, who has a good attitude towards life, fitness and of course the Hibs. I have been lucky to work with many good people in libraries, one or two of whom I look up to and aspire to being. There are lots of good bloggers too. Some of them even read this blog, remarkably.

Autistic people are more prominent in society than ever before. Two who are often in the media are Chris Packham, the naturalist and broadcaster, and Anne Hegerty, the Governess off The Chase. Chris Packham presented a BBC documentary at the end of last year called ‘Asperger’s And Me’, variously moving, funny and sweet, an insight into his life and autism more generally. What he wrote after the documentary came out is worth a read too. I’ve been meaning to read his memoir Fingers In The Sparkle Jar for ages and I have it sitting at work to read during breaks. I heard Anne Hegerty talk on a podcast recently and she came across very well. One bit that struck home was how she talked about needing time away from people now and then. I do a people-facing job and despite liking people, I also enjoy my own company too. It is necessary for survival too. Anne Hegerty is also on my favourite quiz show and the combination of quiz questions and smart people makes me happy. Knowing things should be celebrated and cherished, not dismissed as obsolete and unnecessary.

I’ve always believed that we should celebrate people when they’re alive. Funerals and obituaries are great but too late. Just tonight, I read the obituary of Jim Baikie, a comic artist from Hoy, Orkney who was involved in comic strips and worked for DC. He sounds like quite a guy. The Guardian publishes obits of people who maybe aren’t so well known. That’s great but I would like it if the papers published articles in praise of ordinary punters off the street. The New Year’s Honours list was published recently and while I disagree with the honours system for many reasons, I would rather read about those many deserving people garlanded for working in their communities than the latest Tory MP or arms dealer given a knighthood. To take but three examples from the most recent list, David Duke, the founder of Street Soccer Scotland, a charity which seeks to help homeless people gain skills and get involved in sport, got an MBE while Helen Morton was awarded the British Empire Medal for volunteering on Childline. The Church of Scotland minister Iain Torrance got a knighthood for services to higher education and theology, more specifically for chairing the Kirk’s Theological Forum investigating homophobia.

When I was a teenager, I read The Catcher In The Rye by JD Salinger. I suspect I’m not alone in that. One passage that I liked was one early on when Holden talked about wanting to be able to contact one’s favourite authors to talk about their books. I’ve met a few authors or been in the same airspace as a few more and I tend to get star struck. Despite believing that ‘rank is but the guinea’s stamp’ and that everyone is equal, people who write things and have books on actual shelves are on a pedestal for me, as are people who help homeless people get their lives on track, fight homophobia and help children in their darkest times, not to mention Chris Packham and Anne Hegerty. Plus Darren McGregor, since he’s a class defender and never gives the ball away. People are good, for the most part.

London notions

I quite fancy a trip to London. Here’s why that’s strange. I used to hate London, the noise, the hustle, bustle, commotion and general locomotion of the place. Over the last few years, I’ve warmed to it a bit, though not that much that I would ever consider going more than once or twice a year. As it is, I haven’t been for about a year and a half and the other day I found myself daydreaming about a wee trip south. I like to go by train, on one of those lovely Virgin Pendolinos tilting their way through lush countryside and ever bigger towns en route to the metropolis, but that also involves getting up very, very early and getting back tres, tres late. Just walking out of Euston and onto a street with red buses, Tube roundels and signs to some of the best museums and cultural places on the planet appeals to me greatly round about now. Other places do as well, thankfully, including Belhaven, the Borders and other places not beginning with ‘b’, like Dawyck Botanic Garden and Durham.

I think watching lots of videos about London on YouTube might be partly to blame. I think I’ve written here before about ‘All The Stations’, the YouTube series last year following a couple on their quest to get to every railway station in England, Scotland and Wales. Geoff Marshall, one half of that couple, is a major transport buff and does videos about escalators and old Underground stations, amongst many other things. I like enthusiasm and he has it, as does his partner Vicki who appears in many of the videos. Watching his rovings around the Underground, Overground and wherever else just brings up more notions in my mind. In preparation for a possible writing project, I also read London Overground: A Day’s Walk Around The Ginger Line by Iain Sinclair, a book which slightly annoyed me with its inability to keep to a point but I suspect being about psychogeography that’s sort of the point. Notions were still added to while reading it.

Where to go? The British Museum (shown below) is my go-to London place but right now I fancy the British Library with its Harry Potter exhibition which is on until 28th February. Might not happen for that one but I like the planning. The Science Museum needs a closer look too. Above all I just fancy a wander. As much as I get very nationalist around Westminster, I like the bit furth of the Palace of Varieties down Millbank towards Tate Britain. A wee spin along the side of the Thames towards the Globe would be good too, maybe even a peek into Tate Modern. A wee wander around by the Strand like I had the last time I was down but one would be braw. The problem is I have a load of ideas, enough for a good few days, far beyond the seven hours or so I can commit. Looking at a Tube map or doing even a tiny bit of research beyond where I know and like just makes the whole thing worse.

British Museum

What to do about it? Well, if I want to see Harry Potter at the BL, I’ll need to be quick. If I don’t want to pay £142.50 for a return, nearly a tenner more than it was before the fares went up the other week, I’ll need to book a bit in advance. I just fancy a trip to London, that’s all, a bit of the unreal into my reality, but the logistics are a bit tough to figure out. This year it’s going to happen, though, even if it might take longer than I might want and even if I might not be able to fit in all I want to see. It will be an early one, it will be a late one. It’ll be good. And it’ll happen.

Update: Since I wrote this post, about two or three weeks ago, I have actually booked tickets to go to London, up and down on the same day, at the start of February. Sadly, the Harry Potter exhibition is sold out for that day. Any London suggestions will be gratefully received, by email (found on the About page) or by leaving a comment below. I’ve also been to Belhaven and Durham since I wrote this. They were great.

Streets of Glasgow: Sauchiehall Street

The best walks don’t take much planning. The idea for this one, walking from the West End right into the heart of the city, came one day off when I was brushing my teeth. An hour or so later, I walked out of Kelvingrove and turned onto Sauchiehall Street, forking left at the junction. I came past the bowling greens, still bedecked in signs for the 2014 Commonwealth Games, with the newly restored Glasgow University tower behind. The tennis courts on Kelvin Way had games going on, an especially dedicated thing for a cool Friday in January. As I walked towards Charing Cross, the whole place was busy with traffic and folk milling around, not a few of them students. There was a guy walking his dug, which was a wee fluffy thing with a harness. The canine’s name was Bruce. Love it.

There were lots of incredibly good smells on this walk, as I passed a few curry houses and what smelled like barbecue food near Sandyford Place. The walk heading towards Charing Cross had good vistas either side, particularly at one junction when I could look up to Park Circus to the left and the Sikh Gurdwara to the right. Sauchiehall Street at that point had lots of sub-streets branching off them, Royal Crescent, Westminster Terrace, Sandyford Place, amongst others, though since they technically aren’t on Sauchiehall Street, I can’t write about them here. Royal Crescent is quite nice, though. Soon I came to the motorway, looking under the office block towards the Kingston Bridge and the Cathkin Braes beyond. That’s a whole lot of concrete. The Victorian drinking fountain that sits on the corner, put there in honour of Sir Charles Cameron, the city’s MP from 1874 to 1895, and the elaborate, curved Charing Cross Mansions make it a wee bit more aesthetically pleasing, if you ignore the exhaust reek.

Looking up is always rewarded in Glasgow, particularly in this case between Charing Cross and Renfield Street. Most of the buildings are older, with a few muckle towers and strange golden buildings chucked in for good measure. The golden one is near Primark further down and I hadn’t noticed it before, quite honestly thinking WTF? The road was being dug up though as ever there didn’t seem to be much actual work happening. Luckily there were some very fine buildings to look up to, including the Beresford, the Royal Highland Fusiliers Museum and the old Bank of Scotland that currently sits vacant, not to mention above the Savoy Centre and Waterstones closer to town. That bit of the street gradually became busier with traffic, only getting worse as it became pedestrianised. Between Charing Cross and Pitt Street, Sauchiehall Street was thriving with lots of restaurants and stuff going on, a bit less so towards Buchanan Street. Glasgow City Council are working on improving Sauchiehall Street, though, funded by the City Deal initiative, with lots of trees, cycle lanes and Wi-Fi, as well as ‘intelligent street lighting’ and ‘reduced street clutter’. No, me neither. I’m sure it is being done with the best intentions and we will see what effect it has. It was still busy, though, feeling very Glaswegian with the Evening Times seller hawking papers and pigeons not budging out the road as folk walk up the street.

After that, it all started to get a bit surreal. The 02 ABC advertised a show that night by Propaganda. At least the musicians were honest about their intentions. The CCA had a book in the window, apparently about the late architect Zaha Hadid, titled The World Is Not A Rectangle. Above Waterstones, I noticed posters in the window, bearing the admittedly quite thoughtful slogans ‘More storeys than any other bookshop’ and ‘Haven’t you got anything better to read than this. We have.’ Since there are no statues on Sauchiehall Street, a traffic cone was high up in a street light rigging. A red polis box nearer West Nile Street was being used as a dispensary of hemp. As you do.

I sat on the steps outside the Royal Concert Hall and thought about the walk just finished. I don’t visit Sauchiehall Street a lot. I mainly pass along it by bus or cross on the way to some transport connection or another. It was a good street to do a psychogeographic walk on, though, since it’s about looking beyond the obvious, the surface, the cosmetic, and instead looking up. There are some bits of Sauchiehall Street that are hard to love but there are lots of fine parts, architecture, characters and of course food smells. Whatever the finials, carvings and the rest, it’s the food that makes everything worth it.

This is the seventeenth Streets of Glasgow post here on Walking Talking. Nearby streets written about as part of this series so far include Buchanan Street, Hope Street, Renfield Street and West Nile Street as well as Bath Street and Kelvin Way which are forthcoming.

Durham Cathedral

I know very few things. One of them is that good days should be cherished for who knows quite when you will need to remember them and hold them close. I am fortunate that I’ve had many good days in my life. About ten years ago, I was having a bit of a tough time. One Friday afternoon, with the next day free and no earthly idea of how to fill it, I was sitting just by the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, in fact in the close that looks onto the MSPs offices, the ones with the thinking pods in the windows. I was thinking of one of my favourite books, Notes From A Small Island by Bill Bryson, and in particular the section about Durham. Bryson raved about Durham and I hadn’t been before. I thought and I marched straight up to Waverley Station to book a ticket. The next day, I was on the train, just about to get off, and I got my first glimpse of that Cathedral on the hill. I walked right up to it and straight in. On that bright May morning, I walked around the Cathedral, looking up at its ceilings, down at its marble floor, and I realised that things were going to be okay. They were, as it turns out. Ever since, Durham has been very special to me. I don’t get there as often as I used to; geography mostly to blame. Nearly a decade on, I can’t help feeling the same peace as I did then.

I am not religious. If I am anything, I prefer to be like Norman MacCaig and be a Zen Calvinist. Durham Cathedral is one of the most significant churches in the Church of England, not natural Zen Calvinist territory by any measure. It is certainty when the world, the universe and everything else is everything but. Maybe that’s why I like to go there and think. I’ve sat there in wooden pews and come away with grand plans to sort out my life, even if they don’t actually pan out the way I intended. These days, I’m happy just to think and to look. If I come away with any clarity, I’ve got lucky. When I was there recently, my abiding thought was that my backside was square and I couldn’t sit there any longer. So, I moved.

The Cathedral is a place which needs to be appreciated in different ways. On foot, on the move, it needs a couple of circuits to see the familiar haunts, to look and down at the right moments, the right windows and plaques, the zig-zags and pillars. Then I sit. Often for a while. Then I walk around again. I make sure I see St. Cuthbert’s Shrine, thinking of how he preferred the waves and solitude of Lindisfarne to more refined cares. I usually stop by the tomb of the Venerable Bede and think of the line I read in a book by Alan Bennett once, sung by Dame Maggie Smith in revue about how the Venerable Bede could hardly spell and barely read. Sometimes, like when I was last there, I sit in the cloisters, the only bit I take a photo in deference to the big signs, and think of Harry Potter, scenes of which were filmed there. I’m not awaiting my Hogwarts letter, it would just be nice to visit.

When I was last in the Cathedral, I was talking about the Battle of Dunbar, when the victorious Cromwellian forces marched 3,000 prisoners to Durham, some destined to die within its walls, others executed while some were transported to America as slaves. There’s a plaque in the Chapel of the Nine Altars. Nearby is my favourite window, the one dedicated to Archbishop Ramsey, the Transfiguration Window, brown with a shaft of light in the middle. I always like to find the sweet, self-reverential touch where the Cathedral appears in the window. The Millennium Window nearby, more modern with its images of northeastern life, reflects its colours on the stone on sunny days, like the ceiling above the nave where the light shines in on its curves.

As I said, I’ve been fortunate to have many bright days. Durham has factored in quite a few of them, like when I was there during the Lumiere Festival a few years back and images from the Lindisfarne Gospels were projected on the walls. Or when I was there during a heatwave at the end of March, walking by the river in shorts. I never fail to thrill at the sight of the Cathedral as I approach, even if lately I’ve come by road, which is almost as good. It’s the best building on Earth and I’m just glad I’ve been, on cold winter days and long summer ones, in all moods and hues, to sit under its ceiling and admire it, admire the world around, really, and live life just a wee bit brighter from having been there.