Digest: February 2018

So, that’s February then. We are nearly into the spring, the nights are drawing out all the time and that’s always a good thing. I wrote most of this post, including the first couple of sentences, as the month went on rather than in a burst, as I normally do. Today, Wednesday 28th February 2018, sees a red weather warning across the Central Belt for snow and ice, which extends into tomorrow too. Presently it is extremely cold outside, well below freezing, and not much adventuring is happening at the moment. Or much of anything else really. Heed the warnings, keep warm, keep safe. So, it’s a good time to run through where I got to in February.

Saturday 3rd February saw me visit London. It nearly didn’t happen because I slept in but a new ticket later and I was on the way to Euston. I walked across to the British Museum and had a very decent couple of hours working my way around the crowds to see that place’s many fine artefacts. The rest of my day was spent walking, from Kensington to Marble Arch through Hyde Park and then along the Thames from St. Paul’s to Westminster. The journey home was complicated by trains not running out of Euston, necessitating a train from King’s Cross to Edinburgh then changing, which worked out well in the end when I eventually got home about midnight. I left London at 5.30. Despite that it was a very good day, free-form and nice just to rove. I wrote about it here.

The following Friday I headed into town to do a bit of shopping. I then undertook three Streets of Glasgow walks in the cold February sunshine, on Duke Street, Gallowgate and Trongate. I wore shorts for the whole affair too, which was part of the 30 Before 30 list. It wasn’t as cold as it is today, around four degrees, which was greatly beneficial for my legs and other nearby parts of my anatomy. I am relatively self-conscious about how I look though in the end I came to not care at all as I marched up Argyle Street in my shorts, the only one in sight. I liked these Streets walks particularly because they were in largely unfamiliar terrain, though my favourite was Duke Street due to the considerable variety in architecture, modern, Victorian and Greek classical.

Saturday 17th February Hibs played Aberdeen. I got to Edinburgh a bit early and took the scenic route to Easter Road, via Leith Walk and Easter Road. Hibs won comfortably.

The next day I spent around Glasgow with my dad. Being out before anywhere was open, we headed first for a walk by the Clyde through Glasgow Green. The Green was playing host to a running race organised by an LGBT charity. When it opened, we went to the People’s Palace, which had a good display about Mary Barbour and the rent strikes. Thereafter we headed to the Lighthouse, which I had never been to before and enjoyed immensely, except the shoogly staircase up to the tower. There was also an exhibition about timber buildings, which I liked. We also went to Kelvingrove and the Botanic Gardens.

Beyond that, the rest of the month I spent living quietly, working mostly, reading, writing and keeping warm. Wednesday 28th February I was due to go watch Hibs play Hamilton at Easter Road but the bad weather happened and the game got postponed. That’s why I had time to tidy up this post and get it out tonight rather than the planned post of views from the top of the Lighthouse. That appears on Friday.

One of the posts here this month, 30 Before 30, was about a list I’ve come up with of 30 things I would like to do prior to my thirtieth birthday, in about 18 months time. In each digest, I will update on how many I’ve achieved. In February, I achieved 4, three of them on the same day.

I also have an article coming out next month in the next issue of Nutmeg, about being an autistic football fan. It’s out in the middle of next month.

That’s the February digest. In March, I will be on some more adventures, definitely for Hibs games. Thanks to all readers, commenters, followers, particularly for everyone who responded to the 400th post, the one in Scots. Have a nice month.

February posts –

Digest: January 2018

Streets of Glasgow: George Square

400: How Ah talk, written doon

30 Before 30

The London caper

Streets of Glasgow: Govan Road

Hamilton Mausoleum

Going underground

A day trip experience

Handwriting

Streets of Glasgow: Miller Street

Gazing across a map

Coming soon…

Robert Louis Stevenson

Streets of Glasgow: Queen Margaret Drive

Streets of Glasgow: Queen Margaret Drive

One of the few things I knew about Glasgow when I was a kid was that the BBC was based in Queen Margaret Drive. It isn’t any more, they moved about ten years ago to Pacific Quay by the Clyde, but I used to wonder, in my ignorance of the city’s topography, why the Beeb would be based so far out of the city centre. I now know that the West End is a vibrant, thriving sort of place with trendy restaurants and other nice places to be so the BBC folk wouldn’t have been hard done by. North Park House is now posh flats though on the side of the building, there are parts where the stonework is slightly lighter reflecting where the BBC lettering used to be. The Kibble Palace in the Botanics and North Park House made a nice photo, taken by the roundabout before I crossed the river.

I had been thinking of this walk for a while and it only became more pressing when I walked up Queen Margaret Drive towards Firhill when Hibs played there in December. This time I stopped on the bridge looking down the river slightly shimmery in the bright January sunshine. I wanted to have a look at some of the trendy shops on the next stretch of the street, tickled variously by the Londis boasting that it stocked Irish Craft Beers, a couple of the shops declaring themselves part of the Dear Green Coffee Roasters initiative, the barbers called Kelvin Hair and the undoubted quirkiness scale winner, Opal Moon, which looked like it was absolutely rammed full of stuff. There were also the inevitable witty signs advertising some of these businesses.

Further up, I looked over to see a barren stretch of ground, fenced in by railings which had a Christian cross on them, perhaps a hint as to what once stood there, possibly a candidate for the Stalled Spaces scheme. I was also intrigued by the Belhaven Nursery School up the road, a reminder for this Dunbar exile that you can never escape where you come from. Queen Margaret Drive until Maryhill Road and Bilsland Drive gets quite urban and residential at this point, with playing fields and mounds with trees to the right, also getting steadily higher as I walked. It was also busy with cars and people going from school and work, the families eagerly chattering about their day as they headed homewards.

I like these kinds of walks because they take in different sides of Glasgow, in Queen Margaret Drive’s case from the classic, trendy West End to the redder sandstone, rougher and readier Maryhill, very varied but no less interesting as I go along, another street down as I continue to seek to understand and explore this great city I call home.

This is the twenty second post from the Streets of Glasgow series here on Walking Talking. If you’ve enjoyed reading this one, there’s plenty more, including last week’s instalment, Miller Street. Near Queen Margaret Drive is Byres Road, which I wrote about last year, as well as University Avenue and Kelvin Way, which will follow in the coming weeks.

 

Robert Louis Stevenson

Robert Louis Stevenson statue, Kelvingrove, Glasgow

A few years ago, there was a BBC Scotland series called ‘Writing Scotland’, which included a vignette with the artist and author Alasdair Gray, he of Lanark. He said that he and a group of friends once half-seriously thought of replacing the statue of Walter Scott underneath his monument in Edinburgh with a memorial to Robert Louis Stevenson. I’m not much of a fan of Gray but I could sympathise with this notion. Stevenson and Scott were vastly different writers, both producing a vast array of books about a whole host of things. Sir Walter Scott appears on banknotes as well as having the aforementioned muckle rocket ship-shaped monument in Princes Street and also Abbotsford near Melrose. RLS has to make do with a bit of the Writers’ Museum, a grove of trees in Princes Street Gardens and a plaque on the corner of Drummond Street and Nicolson Street, just off South Bridge. I spotted it a few years ago and then promptly forgot about it until the other day when I was in the area. I wonder just how many students have been inspired by it.

As it is, I haven’t read all that much of Stevenson’s work. I wrote recently about wanting to read more of Muriel Spark’s work and she is at the front of the queue. Beyond Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde, read in my teens during my ‘working through the school library classics’ stage, right after I read James Hogg’s The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, I haven’t read so much of RLS. But I hope to some time, perhaps while I still am a student but hopefully not when my heart is down.

 

Gazing across a map

If I am running a little late in the morning on the way to work, I usually have to walk a wee bit further to get a bus, to the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, to be precise, about a mile from the house. The QEUH is served by a lot of buses, with no fewer than four bus stops outside the main entrance of the hospital where it is possible to get a bus across most of the west of Scotland. On each of the bus stops is a map, produced by SPT and NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, which shows where the buses all go. It is sort-of like a circuit diagram, vaguely paying attention to geography but more focused on clarity and concision, much like the London Underground map. Now and then I look at it and trace out bus routes I have covered in the city, usually realising I’ve been to most of them over the last few years. I still harbour the notion of going on the 90 or the 3 around the city but I would probably have to pack enough provisions for an assault on Everest.

I like maps, particularly schematics like the bus or Tube maps. I get lost in them for a while, planning future adventures and reliving old ones. Very often working out ideas is as good as the actual experience itself.

I was looking at the Edinburgh bus map earlier and it has become significantly more complicated in recent years with Lothian taking over lots of new routes plus the addition of the trams. It is an absolute mess. Strangely it is actually easier to navigate the capital’s public transport network in person than figuring it out with the map, even with Leith Street being shut and the roadworks at Haymarket. Edinburgh is a wonderful city but it is an absolute nightmare if you desire a simple life.

The London Underground map is rightly a design classic and Transport for London have capitalised on that, putting it on duvets, wrapping paper and notebooks, amongst many other things. I sincerely hope there isn’t London Underground map underwear or condoms or something. (Having just looked up the London Transport Museum shop online, they actually do sell London Underground map-themed boxer shorts, for the mildly reasonable sum of £8.99. They don’t sell condoms, yet.) Anyway, I don’t visit London that often but when I do, I usually use the Tube to get around, not least because it is supremely logical and the stations often have a lot of character architecturally. Looking at the map just now, I seem to have been on quite a few of the Underground’s various lines, including the Northern line when I made a special pilgrimage to Mornington Crescent. I wrote about that a wee while ago here. I don’t think I’ll ever get round them all but it’s nice thinking about it all the same.

Mornington Crescent

A schematic map doesn’t need to be strictly accurate, as long as it makes sense. The whole process of planning an adventure, particularly the best adventure, involves a bit of order but a whole lot of not being exact and just plain winging it. When I want to plan an adventure, I invariably have to be somewhere else but the planning is always worth it, even if I won’t actually get to set sail in the other direction that day, that month or even that year. One day it will happen, even if it is just in my mind as I gaze across the map.

Streets of Glasgow: Miller Street

This was an utterly spur-of-the-moment walk, a true derive in the psychogeographical tradition as I was walking up Argyle Street and decided to turn left. It was busy with folk using it as a shortcut to cross the city centre or to go to the various shops, offices and restaurants along its short length. The sole reason I knew Miller Street existed was because I knew it used to house Stirling’s Library, one of Glasgow’s other libraries, which is now known as the Library at GOMA, in the basement of the Gallery of Modern Art. The library had been founded in 1791 after a bequest from Walter Stirling, merchant, and was housed in his own home before eventually joining the city library system in 1912 and moving nearby to premises which used to be the Mitchell Library, now of course in North Street in Anderston. It’s a library thing, basically.

Miller Street was a blend of elegant mercantile buildings and street art for me. Of the former, my favourite was the Tobacco Merchant’s House, which was originally designed by the architect John Craig for himself in 1775 and much like many of the houses the Tobacco Lords built for themselves in the Merchant City. Pleasingly it is now the headquarters of the Scottish Civic Trust and the Glasgow Building Preservation Trust. We have the Scottish Civic Trust to thank for Doors Open Days here in Scotland. The street art couldn’t have been more different, a Banksy-type mural of a guy in a shellsuit with a Scottie dug on a lead. Nearer Argyle Street was a barbers called Safe Hands. On the side was the rather cheering tableau of a skull with a pair of scissors lodged in it. Might give them a bye myself.

Before I reached the end of the street, I had to stop and look at a sandwich shop called ‘Piece’, which is what many Scots call a sandwich, though they don’t necessarily refer to shops that sell them as ‘Gourmet Sandwichmongers’. At this point, I thought, as I often do on these walks, of an Edwin Morgan poem, this time ‘The Second Life’, with the noises of planes flying overhead. I came to the junction with Ingram Street and the walk came to an end, a splendid diversion with good architecture, art and reminders of the dangers of getting your hair cut.

Sources and further reading –

The Glasgow Story, ‘Stirling’s Library’, available at http://www.theglasgowstory.com/image/?inum=TGSA00860

Architecture Glasgow, ‘The Tobacco Merchant’s House’, available at http://www.architectureglasgow.co.uk/oldcity.millerstreet.html

Before I go, I have a recommendation to make. Manchester is one of my favourite English cities, a place I hope to get back to ere long. The Wednesday’s Child blog features a very nice post about walking along Oxford Road in Manchester. Go read it, it’s excellent.

This is the twenty first post in the Streets of Glasgow series here on Walking Talking. Nearby streets I’ve written about are Streets of Glasgow: Ingram StreetStreets of Glasgow: George Square and Streets of Glasgow: Queen Street.

Handwriting

It was reported in The Herald recently that the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) are considering stopping handwritten exams in secondary schools over the next decade. SQA chief executive, Dr Janet Brown, was quoted as saying that some subjects will ‘always need’ paper exams but electronic examinations would simply reflect societal change. The teaching union, the EIS, said handwriting is still important while the Scottish Parent Teacher Council said much the same. The article, which appeared on the front page of The Herald on 8th December 2017, mentioned a SQA report from 2014, where many Higher English exam scripts were ‘near-illegible’. Making people write at speed for three hours at a time tends to do that, leaving aside anything else. For OU courses, I write exam scripts in block capitals, to give the examiners a chance.

I don’t like exams anyway, either doing them or as a part of the education system, but I think this would be progress. The fact is that very few people handwrite anything any more. Typing is faster for many people, either on a screen or a keyboard. Our thoughts go at typing speed rather than writing speed now. A comment that the Scottish Parent Teacher Council made in the article was interesting, though, about how touch typing used to be taught and ‘would be invaluable to many’. I have to differ with that. When I was at high school, I was taught touch typing and I couldn’t do it. I had to leave the class as I was getting so frustrated. To this day, I still can’t do it. I am not well-coordinated and even though I can type very fast with multiple fingers and without looking at the screen, it is hardly the way that Mavis Beacon intended me to type.

While I am typing this post, I am referring to handwritten notes I made. I write a lot and it tends to be split between stories and notes on paper and articles, essays and blog posts on my computer. With some pieces, I handwrite the first draft then type it and redraft from there, variously scribbling on a printed copy and then working from there. My handwriting isn’t brilliant. It can be spidery and illegible to some but that’s not always a bad thing. I sometimes refer to it as encryption. It remains remarkably consistent wherever I write, from buses to trains to actually sitting at a table. I’ve spent years writing leaning on a clipboard or a folder so it’s fine.

I think handwriting is actually important. It is a skill thousands of years of evolution in the making and we shouldn’t simply dismiss it in favour of technology. Even though exams are fundamentally pointless, we have to stick with them and making people write their answers out at speed by hand seems unnecessarily cruel and excessive. For exams, technology is the answer. For a lot of things, though, for creative writing, even just for the pleasure of it, by hand will still be best.

Going underground

Glasgow has a Subway. It runs in two loops around the city and for a while I used it daily on my commute. Now I tend to be on it maybe once a month. It’s not always the most pleasant experience. It’s loud and screechy, playing havoc with my particular blend of sensory sensitivities. At some point I hope to do a walk around the Subway on the surface – I did a test walk from Buchanan Street to Bridge Street recently and still need to write it up – and that should be much better.

Strangely, though, I actually prefer the London Underground to the Subway. Not when it is mentally busy, mind, but as an experience the Tube wins. It is a bigger system, the trains themselves are quieter and it is well organised. When I was in London recently, I made four journeys:

  • Holborn to South Kensington – Piccadilly line
  • Marble Arch to St. Paul’s – Central line
  • Westminster to Embankment – Circle line
  • Embankment to Euston – Northern line

The trick I’ve found with the Underground is taking it slow and looking around to make sure I’m going in the right direction, if necessary checking and re-checking posters. I tend to take the right side of escalators in order to pace myself. This is natural since the Tube is not a part of my everyday life.

I also like the Tube because each station is different in architecture and design. The Glasgow Subway is mostly uniform save for some art pieces in a few of the stations like Kelvinhall and Hillhead. The London Underground is piecemeal and inconsistent and I like that. It is the product of different companies running the show over time and their different priorities.

At one point when I was in London recently, possibly on the train from Embankment to Euston, I sat back and thought about where I was and how I got there. I was just in the moment, I was on the London Underground, one of the busiest transport systems in the world in one of the busiest cities in the world. I felt fine. I was glad to be there, feeling confident in myself and my ability to navigate it.

Hamilton Mausoleum

Quite a few years ago, I used to work in a museum. One of my colleagues, now sadly gone, was once a countryside ranger in Chatelherault Country Park near Hamilton in Lanarkshire. We were talking one day about a feature on the news the previous night about a concert taking place in Hamilton Mausoleum, a building she knew well since it sits on the edge of Chatelherault Country Park. The Mausoleum, she told me, had the longest continuous echo of any building in the world and it was an incredible place to visit. I only got there a couple of years after she died, not long after I moved to Glasgow. I booked a ticket to go for the tour and got myself to Hamilton, a place I had never been to before. To be fair, a whole lot of the west of Scotland was still new to me at that point. The tour started from the nearby Low Parks Museum and lasted for roughly an hour and a half. It was brilliant with a very knowledgeable tour guide. The Mausoleum was the final resting place for the Dukes of Hamilton and sat in what was once the grounds of Hamilton Palace. The echo took 15 seconds to pass around the Mausoleum’s central chamber. I spent a fair bit of time not making a noise but looking up at the dome ceiling which somehow reminded me of both a church and a dovecot. What stuck with me was that due to mining nearby, the Mausoleum was no less than 18 feet lower than it was when it was built and I gather that it is also tilting as a consequence. I was glad I finally got there, after hearing about it years before and to visit such a fascinating, quirky place.

I was reminded of the Mausoleum recently when I read an article from The Skinny about Francis Macdonald, the drummer from Teenage Fanclub, who has composed ‘The Hamilton Mausoleum Suite’, an instrumental work inspired by the Mausoleum and featuring musicians from the Scottish Festival Orchestra. An album was released on 26th January and it will actually be performed in the Mausoleum on 19th February, a week tomorrow. I think that’s great. Every now and then, I think about the Mausoleum and the time I spent there. It is a weirdly fascinating place and it is inspiring, if downright creepy at times. I’ll have to give the album a listen.

Streets of Glasgow: Govan Road

In my bit of the city, the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital dominates the landscape. A perk of living nearby is that it is possible to get a bus to just about anywhere in Glasgow or parts west from outside the main entrance of the hospital. Less nice is the constant reek from the treatment works next door. If the wind is blowing in the wrong direction, it can be absolutely rank. Govan Road starts right outside the hospital. To the left of Hospital Boulevard (seriously) is Renfrew Road, to the right Govan Road. The council has put a sign to that effect at the junction, making it easier for me to start this particular walk. I had been thinking about this one for ages – indeed it partly inspired this project as every time I got a bus from the QEUH into town, I spent the whole journey looking out the window at the buildings and the city skyline. As I started, I passed a guy in a hi-vis jacket minding a microphone, perhaps from the telly or radio. The houses to the right were interesting, grey, drab cottages though with interesting lintels above the doors of each with carvings, perhaps classically inspired.

I was struck walking on by a petrol station which had been plonked right in the middle of a row of tenements. Glasgow is a city of gaps, a place where five or six architectural styles can exist on a single block, let alone a street. Govan Road has modern flats, archetypal Glaswegian tenements, outlandish, grand civic buildings and traces of past and present industries. I was disappointed, though, walking near the Clyde Tunnel that one of my favourite elaborate shop signs, which used to be a seashell effect, has been covered over by a generic supermarket sign. Nearby was an old sign carved into the building which said that this was Old Renfrew Road. Not any more it ain’t. I soon came to Elder Park, which I wrote about here recently, and paid particular attention to the gate posts which faced onto Govan Road, which were very fine. I also spent a couple of minutes admiring the Fairfields offices, now a heritage centre, with its fine statues and carvings, as well as an interesting sculpture called the Govan Milestone with two birds sat on what looked like cow horns but were probably meant to be arms, to signify strength and collective will.

When I first moved to Glasgow, just shy of five years ago, I volunteered the odd Sunday afternoon at the Govan Stones, a collection of hogbank gravestones held in Govan Old Church. It was one way to get to know the city a bit better, plus to do something interesting and historical, meeting folk along the way. Govan Old is set back a little from the road but it was nice to see the place again. I hadn’t before appreciated just how fine the Pearce Institute is, with a magnificent doorway on the side of the building with a coat of arms above and two jugs to the side. The motto below said: ‘Quit You Like Me’. The Pearce Institute is a very handsome building, designed by Robert Rowand Anderson and opened in 1906, donated by Lady Dinah Pearce, wife of Sir William Pearce, shipbuilder and MP for the area. Lady Pearce donated the funds to build the PI, which still exists as an important centre of the Govan community. There is a statue of Sir William across the street and in true Victorian style it goes into some detail about his achievements in suitably florid prose. Some nice soul has put a small card on the statue about Lady Pearce, which is a small tribute, far less than she probably deserves. There are three statues of women in Glasgow, of which only one depicts a Glaswegian, Isabella Elder, which is in Elder Park. There will be one at Govan Cross later this year of Mary Barbour, involved in the rent strikes in Govan in 1915. We need more statues of the women who helped to make this city great, Dinah Pearce and Mary Barbour being but two of them. For more on this, read Anabel Marsh’s post on this very topic. Edinburgh is worse with more statues of dogs than women. Rant over. The Pearce Institute is an amazing looking building. It is also the very first place on these walks where I got quizzical looks as I buzzed around taking photos on my phone.

Govan Cross was busy as I walked through that Friday lunchtime. Even though there were quite a few folk dotting around, I got the distinct sense that it would have been much busier when all the yards and factories were open. I walked past a slightly dilapidated bingo hall, which had mesh over the front showing what it looked like before, with a sign beside it declaring it to be the Lyceum, the Palace of Varieties. That was a particular joy, being able to imagine the scenes there of an evening. The remains of the shipbuilding were particularly interesting, being able to see the dry docks nearer the Science Centre and also the boarded up offices nearer Fairfields.

Beyond Govan Cross, I was glad to stop and look at some of the fine civic buildings along the way. Not far from the Subway was the TSB, which had a queue of folk waiting for the cash machine, and I looked up at the Royal coat of arms above the doors and the smart tower at the top. I think I’ve written here before about the Stalled Spaces programme, using barren ground for gardens and art installations. There was another one not far from the TSB, including a very cool set of planters made to look like a ship, complete with two painted chimneys. Just up the road were the Press Buildings, now a convenience store, which had images of Guttenberg, Walter Scott, Burns and Caxton, one of the early printers, as well as its owners, the Cossars. These housed the offices of the Govan Press including the print works. Across the way there was a very fine view towards Pacific Quay and the Glasgow Tower in particular. I soon came to Govan Town Hall, now housing film studios, which is a stunning building, with lots of cupolas, towers and carvings in red sandstone.

To a lot of Scots who live outside Glasgow, our city is a blur of stereotypes, football, crime and accents. One positive memory that some have is of the Garden Festival, which took place in 1988 in Festival Park, which I soon passed. I of course don’t remember the Garden Festival, not being born yet. The Festival Park looks nice, with the Tower again poking above the trees. This bit of the walk blurred into industrial premises and modern office blocks, soon passing the offices of STV. Disappointingly, I didn’t run into John MacKay or Raman to remind them that there are more than two football teams in Glasgow, let alone the rest of the country.

I soon came to Paisley Road Toll, the point where Govan Road joins Paisley Road at the Grand Ole Opry. There is what is popularly known as the Kinning Park Angel or more properly Commerce and Industry, which sits atop the building on the corner, now home to an Italian restaurant but used to be a department store. It was a fitting end to a great walk, a great array of contrasts between the old and the new of the city, bustling city streets and empty residential ones. Much of the walk was in Govan itself, a place which only became part of Glasgow in 1913 and the distinct character of Govan was really obvious on this one, even from the names of some of the businesses I passed along the way, not to mention the incredible architecture, a walk to savour and maybe repeat one day along the line.

Sources and further reading –

‘Eye Spy Glasgow: The angel in the sky at Kinning Park’, from Evening Times, 26th September 2014, available at http://www.eveningtimes.co.uk/news/13292558.Eye_Spy_Glasgow__The_angel_in_the_sky_at_Kinning_Park/

‘The Glasgow Garden Festival: A true legacy or a glorious failure?’ from The Scotsman, 3rd December 2016, available at https://www.scotsman.com/news/the-glasgow-garden-festival-a-true-legacy-or-a-glorious-failure-1-4308140

‘The Govan Press’, from Acumfaegovan, available at http://www.acumfaegovan.com/govanpress.php

‘Govan Town Hall’, Clyde Waterfront, available at http://www.clydewaterfront.com/clyde-heritage/prince’s-dock/govan-town-hall

Pearce Institute Conservation Plan 2009, available at http://www.pearceinstitute.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Pearce-Institute-CP-2009-amended2.pdf

‘Sunday Guest Post Series: Hidden Histories’, Retirement Reflections, available at https://www.retirementreflections.com/sunday-guest-post-series-hidden-histories/

This is the twentieth Streets of Glasgow post here on Walking Talking. I also wrote here about Edmiston Drive, which is fairly close by.

The London caper

Oh, and it was a caper. I was in London the other day and if anything could go wrong, it generally did. I managed to sleep in, missing my train and necessitating buying another ticket, thankfully still at the cheaper price. Getting back to Euston, intending on going for something to eat before the train home, I discovered that there were no trains running due to a fatality. Within fifteen minutes, I was on a Virgin East Coast train out of King’s Cross to Edinburgh, which ended up into Edinburgh late. I went for the train to Glasgow and it was 25 minutes late due to some folk fighting on an earlier service, meaning I had to run (and I mean sprint) for the last train home from Glasgow Central. I left London at 5.30 and arrived back at my house in Glasgow just after midnight. Fun and games.

Rather than focus on the negatives, let’s go for the positives.

  1. I went to the British Museum and it was busy but manageable.
  2. I had two good long walks, exploring more of London at my own pace and in my own way
  3. Hibs won against Rangers while I was in London
  4. I managed to travel on both sides of the country on the same day
  5. A London Underground ticket machine took my Scottish tenner
  6. The Elizabeth Tower of the Palace of Westminster (the bit that houses Big Ben) looks like something out of a futuristic movie all daubed in scaffolding.
  7. I learned about Dreamland
  8. The Virgin East Coast train was excellent, quiet and with very friendly staff
  9. Durham Cathedral lit up at night is glorious
  10. The Thames was choppy and actually had waves
  11. Wading merrily through a puddle in a tunnel somewhere in Southwark as the southerners queued and walked gingerly through
  12. Walking by the Thames is good
  13. The very cheery busker with his guitar by the Thames
  14. Westminster is vastly improved by Big Ben not chiming

Thirteen is not bad. I arrived at Euston just after 12. My game plan was to go to the British Museum and see where I got to after that. There were protesters outside Euston gathering for the big demonstration to protect the NHS and some of them offered passers-by placards and leaflets. They shouted about privatisation and Richard Branson, which I broadly agree with, though since I live in Scotland where the NHS has thankfully evaded most of the privatisation and bad stuff that the English NHS has, I decided against joining them, despite joining a protest being one of the 30 things I should do before I’m 30. There was a significant police presence cutting about too. I walked through Bloomsbury and into the British Museum through the back way.

The British Museum is one of my favourite places on the planet. It is also incredibly busy and I had to work around the hordes to see anything. I spent a good two hours going around some of my favourite bits of the museum, not even seeing the Elgin Marbles or any of the Assyrian stuff. I got to see all the stuff I really like, including the Lewis Chessmen, which I still refrained from taking home to Scotland where they belong, as well as the life and death bit with its artefacts from the Pacific islands and Australia, including an amazing abstract painting created by Australian aborigines which tells the story of seven sisters making their way across the desert only to be followed by an unwanted, lascivious man. The women jumped from a hill into the sky, forming the Seven Sisters constellation. I was particularly interested this visit by the stories and artefacts of native peoples in North America and Australia, also by getting a few minutes to look at the Codex Zouche-Nuttall in the Mesoamerica gallery, a beautifully illustrated pictorial book depicting the life of a Mixtec ruler, Eight Deer Jaguar-Claw. I always think it looks like a Where’s Wally? book.

After a couple of hours, I was beginning to lose concentration. I decided to get the Underground over town to the Science Museum. I walked down to Holborn and got on the Piccadilly line to South Kensington. South Ken was mobbed with lots of young people dressed for some reason in animal costumes or other elaborate fancy dress. Not sure why. There were more around Westminster later too. I walked along towards the museums though there were long queues outside the Natural History Museum and the V and A. Though the Science Museum didn’t have a queue, I decided against another busy museum experience and since the rain was a drizzle, barely registering on the Glasgow rain scale, I decided to walk instead. I walked up past Imperial College and by the Jamaican High Commission towards the Royal Albert Hall, a building I’ve always liked. I decided to head up towards Hyde Park, maybe towards the city centre that way, though I ended up crossing into the Park. I had never been in it and admired the fine wrought gates. I walked up towards the Serpentine, a place I knew because of the Christmas swims that happen there, and then I had a whole path to myself as I got towards Bayswater Road. Having been amongst thousands at the BM not so long before, being on my own in the heart of one of the biggest cities in the world was weird, though a nice weird.

I reached Marble Arch, which is fine and quite like the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. I had to turn to the map to find Speaker’s Corner, a place in the Park where people can stand up to make speeches, though it was disappointingly empty. I had a notion to walk by the Thames on the south bank and I boarded the Tube at Marble Arch, onto the Central line to St. Paul’s. I had been resisting the urge to check the Hibs score but succumbed in the lee of St. Paul’s Cathedral. They were 1 up at Ibrox and thus I wandered around the side of the stunning Sir Christopher Wren designed Cathedral absolutely overjoyed and singing ‘It’s A Grand Old Team To Play For’. St. Paul’s is a stunning looking church and at some point I’ll have to go in. I walked down towards the Millennium Bridge and across the Thames, stopping at regular intervals to get photos up and down the river. It was busy and a big tour group had stopped right in the middle of the bridge, blocking anyone from getting past. I always feel comfortable by water and even by a great big dirty river like the Thames. As I walked I also imagined the not-in-the-book bit of one of the Harry Potter films where the Death Eaters flew through London and knocked the bridge down as they went.

I walked along the south bank from Tate Modern to Westminster. It was busy though I was comfortable, stopping at regular intervals to check the football score and look up and down the river at the skyline. I got to Westminster and got on the Tube, bound for Euston, taking the Circle line one stop to Embankment and then the Northern line to Euston. On one of those Tube trains I was sitting in the carriage and enjoying just being where I was, in the moment. I was on the Charing Cross branch of the Northern line and I was tickled to hear the announcements that the next stop was Mornington Crescent. As a fan of old radio comedy and I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue in particular, Mornington Crescent has a particular resonance. I was interrupted by my reverie by some quick-thinking to get me home.

I tend to visit London on weekdays so it shouldn’t have been a big surprise that it would be busier in the museums on a Saturday. Everywhere is busier on a Saturday. It was good to be in the British Museum, though, to wander and graze around the place and I also really enjoyed just walking in London, seeing places I had only heard about or just looking up. I was walking along High Holborn towards Holborn tube and I could have been sidetracked on a derive, just looking up at the buildings, their architecture and ghost signs. The freewheeling side of this day trip made it work, as did some swift thinking to get round the train issues. Still I got home, I had a good time and the Hibs won. It was quite a day.