Some blethers

Barns Ness lighthouse

I sometimes go through fits and starts when I don’t write a lot. Also, there can be times when there’s a lot of things that I should post about but I can’t be bothered posting a whole bunch. Both of these are happening at the moment. So, our agenda tonight consists of three items: Rebel, World Autism Awareness Week and some thoughts about stars. I’ll start with Rebel. Rebel is a Scottish Book Trust writing initiative for this year’s Book Week Scotland, which will take place in November. As regular readers of this blog may remember, I had a piece published in last year’s Book Week Scotland anthology, on the subject of ‘Nourish’ featuring a steak bridie and a seagull. Rebel is this year’s competition. It opened on Wednesday and closes at midnight on 6th June. Pieces can be in pretty much any form you like and in any of Scotland’s languages, as long as they are 1,000 words or less and it is also true. Entrants have to be Scottish residents, though, and unpublished. For more details, please see the Scottish Book Trust website. SBT are nice people and so please do support them. A piece I’ve written, which is called ‘Rebel’ and is about not having seen any popular TV programme or film you care to name, is on the SBT website too. I wrote it in January and I still haven’t seen Game of Thrones.

Lammermuir Hills

Second thing is World Autism Awareness Week, which is this week. World Autism Awareness Day is this coming Monday, Easter Monday. I don’t have anything new to post about autism this week, though many, many others will have written about autism and Asperger’s this week and you should check them out. If you are a fellow WordPress blogger, just search ‘autism’ in your WordPress reader or Feedly. Wherever you read online, you should find something good. Autism is a blessing and a curse at times. World Autism Awareness Week will make more people aware of autism and that certainly isn’t a bad thing.

Trongate, Glasgow

Normal service will be resumed on Sunday with a Streets of Glasgow post, this time Trongate. The March digest will follow next week. Easter Road West will have a new post tomorrow morning, which is about sticker books and The Pink. Last week’s was about goalkeepers. I will leave you with a few words about stars.

One of the things that I miss about living in Dunbar is the fact I don’t see stars. I live in Glasgow and there’s too many street lights most of the time to be able to see much of anything in the night sky beyond the moon and plane tail lights. The other night I was coming home from a day in the east. I was walking from the station along the street to my house when I happened to look up. It had been a mostly bright, only marginally cloudy day and the sky was clear and dark. Except I could really, genuinely see stars. Only one or two, not whole constellations, but I could see stars in the big city. I couldn’t help smiling, reminded as ever of those things bigger than ourselves and the world humanity has built, atoms, molecules, protons, worlds beyond our ken. Even in the big city, there’s always a world beyond.

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Lighthouses

Fraserburgh is a long way north of here. I’ve been there a few times and it’s fine. It’s a seaside town, a fishing town, not so far from Rattray Head too. It has at least two claims to fame or at least two which come to my mind. Its football team played The Rangers recently in the Scottish Cup and got beat. Fraserburgh is also home to the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses, which includes an old lighthouse, Kinnaird Head. If you’re ever in the area, go to the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses. I grew up by the sea and for much of the time I lived in Dunbar, I could see two lighthouses from my house. By day, Barns Ness, by night St. Abbs Head. One of the earliest lighthouses in Scotland was on the Isle of May, also visible from Dunbar, and the remains of it are still there. Lighthouses are crucial for ensuring the safety of shipping around our coastline and some of them have been built with no little ingenuity and courage, not least the Bell Rock near Arbroath.

All of our lighthouses are automated now and they are controlled from the Northern Lighthouse Board offices in George Street, Edinburgh. For those who know George Street, the NLB offices are right next to Hollister. The NLB are a whole lot less subtle than Hollister’s energy-gulping screens in the windows, with a model lighthouse with a light above the door. The last time I looked, however, Hollister did at least have a loop of waves crashing to the shore playing though those waves were in California rather than North Ronaldsay or off Barra. Whenever I’m on George Street I always like to think of the huge distance in every sense from the city street to the lighthouses in isolated parts of the coastline.

My favourite lighthouse is the decommissioned Barns Ness, not far outside Dunbar. Seeing it from the train involves looking at the right moment between the quarry and Torness Power Station. The best way is to walk there, from Whitesands or Skateraw. That particular bit of coastline is geologically interesting, with limekilns and a whole lot of sediments happening. One of my ambitions is to learn more about geology. Not so far beyond Barns Ness is Siccar Point, Hutton’s uncomformity which helped to prove his theories of geological development. I still haven’t been though some time I will. The views from Barns Ness are good, though, to St. Abbs Head and back towards Dunbar, the Bass and the May. It is on the John Muir Link, a footpath which runs from Dunbar to Dunglass.

I seem to write a lighthouse post at least once a year so apologies if I am repeating myself. Apart from the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses, I can also recommend a few other places to learn about lighthouses, including level 4 of the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, the Signal Tower Museum in Arbroath and the Scottish Fisheries Museum in Anstruther. Or you can go find one somewhere. Just look for the light and go, preferably the next morning.

New Mary Barbour statue in Govan

Two weeks ago, a statue of Mary Barbour was unveiled at Govan Cross. Mary Barbour led rent strikes in 1915 against unscrupulous landlords and the statue, sculpted by Andrew Brown, features Barbour leading folk to fight for their rights. I particularly like the boys holding up placards with the words ‘We Want Justice’ and ‘The Will Of The People Is Law’. Anyway, I went down the day after the statue was unveiled and I was particularly happy to see a few folk taking photographs or otherwise having a nosy. Here are some photos I took on my phone:

Streets of Glasgow: Gallowgate

This walk began immediately after the Duke Street one featured here last week, at Parkhead Cross. To my left was the very fine Glasgow Savings Bank building, designed by Honeyman, Keppie and Mackintosh in 1908. Glasgow has many fine crossroads and Parkhead Cross is probably the most striking I’ve seen so far with an elegant uniformity to all of the buildings. The light striking and low as the time passed 3, I liked the silhouette of the church to my left as I neared the other side of the Forge. It was also the right perspective for the Eastern Necropolis with Celtic Park’s cantilever span silhouetted behind. Having walked along Edmiston Drive in this series already, I felt it only right in the interests of balance to be in the heart of Celtic territory, as I very much was nearer the Barrowlands with the various Celtic pubs with the tricolour flying outside the door.

For much of the route, the Gallowgate was an interesting mixture of the old and the new, the concrete of the retail park and the smart classical gates of the old meat market. There was an old school house that looked like it had been cut in half with the joins clearly visible at the back as I passed. The Gallowgate was also a place where Glaswegian archetypes abounded, with a pub genuinely called the Wee Mans Bar in the Calton plus of course the Barras market and the Barrowland Ballroom just up the road. It felt like a Billy Connolly routine, with the sight of the Saracen’s Head Inn a reminder of the classic Glasgow Crucifixion sketch not far from the Rachel Maclean mural of the Big Yin, which I wrote about a few months ago, the most visually striking of the three murals dotted around the city centre. As I came to Glasgow Cross, one of the pubs had been done up with a Tennents mural, a fitting reminder of the history and interest of the area.

Throughout this walk there was some great street art and even the local Morrisons got in on the act with some interesting coloured panels on the side depicting local scenes of industry.

Like on Duke Street, the views either side were interesting, with the southern side looking towards the Cathkin Braes. Nearer the city centre, at that end of the Gallowgate there was a cracking view across some waste ground towards the city skyline, of the Necropolis, Glasgow Cathedral and the Tennents brewery I had seen not long before on Duke Street.

Most of these walks involve food smells at some point. Some, like West Regent Street, are more refined but Gallowgate was more traditionally Scottish, fish and chips more than once along the way tempting me as I passed. One of the chippies, near the Forge Retail Park, had a notice saying that a particular meal deal wasn’t available on match days, probably due to the high demand from some of the 60,000 folks heading to Parkhead. Another had a lorry parked outside it with huge sacks of potatoes being conveyed in ready for the suppers ahead over the weekend. The retail park had a fair few food shops though the architecture there was more utilitarian, more huts than just Pizza Hut.

As I neared Glasgow Cross, I stopped for a moment near the Billy Connolly mural and looked across at the railway arches and beyond to the city skyline. The eastern side of the city centre is unjustly maligned though for my money it has some incredible buildings, some once warehouses, others with finials and sculptures galore. Gallowgate isn’t always bonny, let’s say, and there were a few bits of this walk when I quickened my pace a bit. But I’ve always believed that in Glasgow, the best sights are always above your head and to quote Camille Pissarro, ‘blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places when others see nothing’. This walk was one of those when taking the time was rewarded and all of the flavours of this city were there, the elegance and the poverty, the blue, green and everything else. They are always the best ones.

Source and further reading –

Williamson, Elizabeth, Riches, Anne and Higgs, Malcolm, The Buildings of Scotland: Glasgow, 2005, New Haven, CT/London, Yale University Press

This is the twenty sixth Streets of Glasgow post from Walking Talking. There are plenty of others available, including Duke Street, from last week, and also High Street, which meets Gallowgate at Glasgow Cross. Trongate follows next week. The Billy Connolly murals featured in a post from last year.

Camera Obscura

Not the one by Edinburgh Castle. The Avalanche record shop in the capital has recently been listing its 100 best Scottish albums on its Twitter feed with lots of indie tunes dominating, not at all a bad thing. The 26th album on the list was ‘Let’s Get Out Of This Country’ by Camera Obscura, released in 2006. At the time I listened to the radio a lot, particularly BBC 6 Music, which was heavily indie-centric, and Radio 1 at night when it was less pop-infused. It was how I got into Belle and Sebastian, Idlewild and Biffy Clyro, amongst others, particularly English indie guitar bands like the Maccabees. See, my tastes are a bit more varied than just the Proclaimers. Two of my favourite songs come from this album, including the title track and ‘Lloyd, I’m Ready To Be Heartbroken’, alluding to Lloyd Cole and the Heartbreakers, prominent in the Scottish music scene of the 1980s. I don’t like Camera Obscura for that reason – I like this album for how loud and vivid the music is, particularly the beginning of ‘Let’s Get Out Of This Country’. I still listen to songs from it regularly, even if I now think the city is the bees’ knees.

There’s a post on my other blog, Easter Road West, tonight about goalkeepers. Sunday’s post here will be a Streets of Glasgow post, this time Gallowgate.

Five reasons why you should come to Glasgow

Recently I saw a post on Facebook from People Make Glasgow, the city’s marketing bureau, which advertised a post from a travel blogger called WishWishWish about her visit to this fine city, where she ate, visited and shopped. I suspect I’m not in the target demographic for this particular post, since I already live here, though I realised that a fair few of the recommendations were for places I’ve not actually been to. That’s fine. We’re all different. If I wanted to eat in Glasgow, I would generally go to my house. I’m about the day life, not the night life. We all have different focuses in our lives and Glasgow has lots of strands that make it the fine city it undoubtedly is.

Lately I’ve written a lot about Glasgow, mainly through my wanders along some of the city’s streets. My focus has been narrowed so let’s think about the broader sense of the city. Here are five recommendations of places visitors to Glasgow should go. They might not necessarily be on the beaten track. But I like them.

  1. Pollok Park – The Burrell might be getting refurbed but Pollok Park is still well worth a look, not just for Pollok House and the Spanish art but for the trees, leaves and the fact it’s near the motorway but utterly peaceful.
  2. Glasgow Botanic Gardens – Not just the Kibble Palace and the bits nearest Byres Road but the arboretum and the walk by the Kelvin. There’s an old brick works and a river flowing right by. I like the Kelvin.
  3. Holmwood – The National Trust for Scotland look after an Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson designed house in the south side and it’s in nice grounds. It has an interesting design, inside and out.
  4. Riverside Museum – Invariably very busy, indeed it had 1.3 million visitors last year, but though it is much-maligned for a lot of the vehicles being up high and a bit of an aircraft carrier, it is a good insight into the city’s history. The old street and the Subway station in particular is always a highlight.
  5. The streets of Glasgow – what else would I say? Glasgow is a very walkable city and it is best seen on foot, usually looking up. The architecture, the voices, all that: the city is around you. Never mind tour buses or bikes or whatever. Get a good pair of shoes on and walk.

Streets of Glasgow: Duke Street

I don’t always do research for these walks. I prefer to see what I find out along the way. Duke Street was an exception. I looked up Wikipedia and one of my architecture books and that sealed the deal for actually going ahead with it. I started from the High Street end, walking by the side of 220 High Street and looking across to the elegant red sandstone building that sits on the corner of High Street and Duke Street. The sign was written in cursive so I wasn’t sure but I thought a Thai massage and beauty place across the way was called Supaporn. (It actually is, I’ve checked.) This part of the walk featured tower blocks on the left, modern flats to the right. I soon came to the Ladywell Business Centre, once a school, now offices, which looked great in the cold February sunshine with an elegant tower, complete with finial, as well as carved heads on the frontage of the building. Atop one of the ends of the building were a whole load of pigeons, revelling in a structure without spikes.

Not far away was the Tennents Caledonian Brewery. I don’t like beer and I’m told that Tennants in particular is vile so I wasn’t going to bother with the tour. Tennents have an excellent PR department and the walls up and down the street were bedecked in old adverts for Tennents Lager, including the cans with the Lager Lovelies and another in Japanese. My favourite, though, was the one that boasted ‘Now in cans’ plus the pipes of the brewery which were painted to look like a pint. Brewing has taken place on the site since 1556, making it the oldest continually operating business in the city. Duke Street is also the longest continuous street in the UK, again according to Wikipedia, so that’s particularly appropriate. Across the way was a pub no longer in existence, though looking like something out of Still Game in its rough and readyness, and the old Sydney Place United Presbyterian Church, now defunct, which is stunning, designed in 1857 by Peddie and Kinnear in a Greek style.

I soon reached Dennistoun and was tickled by a shop at the junction with Bellgrove Street called African Embassy, which billed itself as the ‘Visa to Good Food’. They went al the way with it, which I liked it. Dennistoun isn’t an area I know well. I went last summer to find the Buffalo Bill statue in the area and I had an urge to go back anyway. As I crossed the road, two women crossed in the other direction saying ‘It’s freezing’. They were possibly scoffing at the fact I was wearing shorts at the time, on a cold day (4 degrees) in February, though in my defence it was part of my 30 Before 30 list. Like on Govan Road, there were a fair few businesses around with Duke in their name, two including Duke Sweet and Dukes Barber. Also on that row was a pound shop with lots of emojis on the front, which gave a conflicted sense of the business’s priorities. I liked a sign outside a pub nearby, though, which featured Betty Boop on a motorbike with the legend ‘Adventure Before Dementia’.

As I walked on, I was reminded of how split our city is in a footballing sense. Though I could see the cantilever of the Celtic Park stands, I was soon by two pubs, the Louden Tavern and the Bristol Bar, liberally festooned with Union flags, though some Saltires, leaving a casual passer-by in no doubt of their footballing loyalties. The 21st century resumed a little way away with a trendy chicken shop called Black Rooster Peri Peri. I also walked past a suitably no-nonsense pest control business, which declared ‘all types of pests dealt with’ and that they had ‘unmarked vehicles’, for those jobs requiring discretion. There was also a derelict nightclub building up the road nearer the Forge, which looked like it had seen its share of bother over the years. Being an architecture buff, though, I liked the angles of the railway bridges over my head as I came to the Forge.

The Govan Road walk ended at Paisley Road Toll, one of the most architecturally interesting corners of the city. Duke Street ends at Parkhead Cross, another stunning bit, with fine red sandstone buildings on each corner as Duke Street, Gallowgate, Tollcross Road and Westmuir Street joined. The one on the corner of Duke Street and Gallowgate looked rather like the one at the start, at Duke Street and High Street, a neat bookend for a rich and varied walk with some gorgeous buildings, bits I would rather have missed and many more I’m glad I saw, rewarded as ever by looking up and around when otherwise I would have passed by.

Sources and further reading –

‘Duke Street, Glasgow’, Wikipedia, available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duke_Street,_Glasgow (accessed 9th February 2018)

Williamson, Elizabeth, Riches, Anne and Higgs, Malcolm, The Buildings of Scotland: Glasgow, 2005, New Haven, CT/London, Yale University Press

This is the twenty fifth Streets of Glasgow post on Walking Talking. There are plenty of others to read, including High Street, which meets Duke Street at its western end. Near Duke Street in Dennistoun is Alexandra Parade, which I wrote about last summer. Posts on Gallowgate and Trongate will follow in the coming weeks.

Towering over Restalrig

Not too long ago, I thought this blog was getting too east coast, with more of Edinburgh, Fife and East Lothian than anywhere else. Then Streets of Glasgow happened and it got all Weegie. To get a bit of balance in this here establishment, let’s go east.

Meadowbank Stadium in Edinburgh, the arena used for much of the 1970 and 1986 Commonwealth Games, is in the process of redevelopment. The other day I saw a couple of photos online which had been taken from London Road, about fifty years apart. The one taken recently featured the velodrome while the other showed the old Meadowbank, once the home of Leith Athletic, which used to stand on the same site. The one common feature of the photographs was in the background, a tall, red tower which stands to this very day in Restalrig Drive. I went to primary school around the corner from it and the tower was a familiar part of my childhood landscape. Indeed it is prominent over much of eastern Edinburgh, visible from the East Coast main line too as it passes nearby. I took myself down there recently and from the street, right by the building (now flats), it is not possible to actually see the tower. From up the street, though, I could see the remnants of the letters ‘MUNRO’ on the centre of the tower. When I was at school, the factory was occupied by the tartan peddlars Kinloch Anderson. According to Canmore, Historic Environment Scotland’s very fine database of historic places, the factory was built in 1910 for Munro and Co. Ltd., makers of hosiery and waistcoats. The tower was in fact a water tower owing to the factory being higher than sea level. It shut in the 1990s, about the time I was in primary school, funnily enough.

When you’re a child, your reality is what’s normal, even if others would dispute it. I was lucky to grow up by the sea and have a good primary school experience. I didn’t realise until recently how the area I went to school in was actually really interesting. own the way is St. Triduana’s Chapel, which I wrote about recently and still haven’t been to, and over the hill is the Craigentinny Mausoleum, a little bit of Greece in a perjink suburb of the capital. It is always worth looking over that next horizon and keeping your eyes open. What you see in your neighbourhood might be familiar but it shouldn’t stop you from being curious or from just stopping to look up.

Thanks for reading. My other blog, Easter Road West, also has a post tonight, about reading on the way to the game. Walking Talking‘s next post is a Streets of Glasgow post, this time Duke Street.

Towards the stars

On the wall facing my bed is a poster I got from the Scottish Poetry Library. It features a poem by Iain Crichton Smith called ‘Towards The Stars’. I glance at it every so often and just now I got to thinking about a night about a year ago. I spent the weekend in Northumberland, a part of the country I absolutely adore. We drove to Embleton late one January night. It was a cold, clear night and as we drove down the A1 the stars were bright and shimmering above us. I’ll never forget it. I live in the city and stars aren’t a common sight here. It was perfect, the sky bright and scattered with little lights. Never have I had a greater sense of how small and insignificant I am in the grand scheme of things. We pulled into Embleton and I stood by the car for a while, just looking up. It was cold and it was late or else I would have been there a lot longer. The rest of the weekend was cloudy and I didn’t see much the next few nights. Somehow it is better that way, even if it didn’t feel like that at the time.

 

Streets of Glasgow: Mitchell Street

I slept in. A big day trip and I fall back asleep. A new ticket and a new plan swiftly arranged, I found myself with time to kill in the centre of Glasgow at 7 on a Saturday morning when the sun wasn’t even up. Naturally my thought was to do a Streets of Glasgow walk. The problem I had as I walked out of Central onto Gordon Street was thinking of which street in the vicinity I hadn’t done before. I thought about Royal Bank Place, which leads from Buchanan Street to Queen Street. Then I remembered Mitchell Street, not just a street I hadn’t written about but I had never actually been down. Obviously the time was then, 7 o’clock on a Saturday morning. As I headed along Gordon Street, the city was getting geared up, including the workers in the nearby Pret A Manger. Above a bright video advert for Adidas beamed away, not failing to catch my attention. I turned right and as well as the Lighthouse, my first sight was a set of black iron railings above the Co-op Bank, an affectation rather than a necessity in all likelihood.

The Lighthouse is a Rennie Mackintosh building, once where the Herald was printed. I have never actually been, though I will very soon, so I can only comment on the outside, which is red sandstone, typically Glaswegian with the usual Rennie Mac stylings and flourishes suitably rendered. Across the way is a multi-storey car park. It was designed by Frank Gehry, though, looking like a dancing couple–no, of course it wasn’t. What it did have was a mural on the side depicting a girl blowing dandelion seeds which were in the shape of wind turbines, a neat environmental message plus a reminder of why it’s good to embrace our inner child. My inner child was tickled by Mitchell Street’s street art, including a big mural on a gable end showing a girl with a magnifying glass and another smaller one shrouded in scaffolding which depicted someone taking a picture of a flying taxi. Another unexpected pleasure was a ghost sign, this one for Wylie and Lochhead, good Scottish names both, cabinet makers and upholsterers.

My abiding impression as I walked down Mitchell Street was that it was like an alley Superman would duck down to get changed in. Every city needs a back street or six though even early on a Saturday, this one had people in it, folks huddling over their fags in doorways outside hotels and their work before they start. The street narrowed until it eventually came out and I suddenly knew where I was. I was now on Argyle Street, between an arcade and the Celtic shop. I looked back and saw the aforementioned mural of the girl with the magnifying glass. I had long admired it but had never ventured up close. Even in the half-light, it was worth it.

Even on the sunniest day, I don’t suppose Mitchell Street gets a whole lot of light, the narrowest of narrow streets even by Glasgow standards. Glasgow standards, though, are high and even back streets here are worth a look, preferably when the sun has come up a bit more.

This is the twenty fourth Streets of Glasgow post to appear on Walking Talking. There are quite a few others available, twenty three of them, funnily enough. Mitchell Street joins onto West Nile Street, which I wrote about last autumn, and Gordon Street, which I wrote about last summer. Last week’s was West Regent Street, elsewhere in the city centre.

The big day trip I was heading for was London, which I wrote about here.

Since I wrote this post, I visited the Lighthouse, which is excellent. A very fine building it certainly is, especially the view from the top. Here’s Mitchell Street from the Lighthouse.