Loose Ends: Bachelors’ Club

The last Loose Ends adventure to the Glasgow Women’s Library gave a lot of scope for planning the next connection. I had considered the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh or even the mighty Mitchell but in the end I decided to go somewhere new, finding myself on the bus down to Ayr. That it was the anniversary of the death of Robert Burns was all the more reason to make the link from the Jean Armour block in the GWL to her husband. There is of course a panoply of places in Ayrshire connected in some way to Burns though a mixture of curiosity and bus timetables led me to the Bachelors’ Club in Tarbolton. Once I figured out how to properly pronounce the name of Tarbolton for the bus driver’s benefit (‘Tarbol’n’, if you’re interested, with a silent ‘t’), I was on the way, on a surprisingly busy Saturday afternoon bus, not entirely sure where I was going as I passed suburbs and rolling fields.

The Bachelors’ Club was a debating society that met in the top floor of an ale house. Tarbolton was a weaving village that became a mining village more recently. Robert Burns lived in the Tarbolton area from 1777 to 1784 and he was a key member of the Bachelors’ Club, also becoming a Freemason in the very same building. Today it is a small museum tended by the National Trust for Scotland with two rooms. After the introductory spiel, I looked around the lower room which had been various things including a private dwelling, pub and spirit house. It was done up as it might have been in Burns’ time with a table of suitably antiquated objects including a time piece used by finding the Plough in the night sky, and a washing board.

Upstairs there was a room all done up to look old. It had a book case including a complete set of the Scottish National Dictionary and a few editions of Burns’ work, most notably the Scottish Musical Museum, which Burns was involved with. There was also an interesting Bible, once owner of the building in the late 18th century, and a display about Burns and freemasonry including a drawing of the bard suitably attired. At this point I ended up blethering to the attendant about the place and much else besides until I had to leave for the bus back to Ayr and eventually Glasgow.

To the connections and going to the Bachelors’ Club could take me to Kilmarnock due to another Burns connection or indeed the name of its main library and museum, the Dick Institute, if you want to be crude as of course I might. To be fair Burns often was. A nearby NTS sign suggested a trip to Dundonald Castle, another past possible connection. A chance conversation I became part of threw up the Britannia Panopticon and the Glasgow Police Museum, both back in the Dear Green Place. There are, of course, also many properties across the land managed by the National Trust for Scotland. The Bachelors’ Club is one of the more modest NTS places but the interest value far exceeds its size. One for the connoisseur, maybe, certainly for the dedicated if travelling by bus, but no worse for that.

Thanks for reading. Another Loose Ends adventure, alas not to the Dick Institute, follows in two weeks time.


Streets of Glasgow: Killermont Street

I had just come back. As the bus pulled into Buchanan Bus Station, I had a notion to do a Streets walk, now a rare pleasure rather than an obligation fitted one after the other, and along Killermont Street, just outside the bus station leading from North Hanover Street to the junction of Renfrew Street and West Nile Street. I figured I could at least write about the buses and the Royal Concert Hall, even the popcorn smell from the nearby cinema that I had smelled earlier in the day.

Killermont Street is short. A few paces would do it. What I had forgotten was how it’s actually a pleasant tree-lined street, particularly on the bus station side. There I crossed the road between buses, making sure I got a picture of the Caution Buses sign, too late for many journeys in my experience. I also liked the upside down road sign left leaning on a dark bus station wall. How would people in the thereabouts get to George Square, Townhead or Springburn? I suspect it had been knocked doon at some point in the recent past. That bit of the street was quite boxy and modern, nowhere near like the railway station that once stood there, John Lewis and the Buchanan Galleries car park next to the RSNO and the concert hall. The concert hall with its pillars fits in really well on this quite architecturally diverse street with all sorts of shapes thrown, rounded hat sweeps, sharp points of car parks and student halls, clocks with legs emanating out, plus a grass wall just plonked in the middle of the pavement.

What I love about Glasgow is looking up. Killermont Street is a cracking place to do that. When I come out of the bus station, usually fresh from an adventure somewhere non-urban, I always get a wee rush of excitement at being home, with the people, buses, noises and high buildings a weirdly satisfying sort of overload. It is one of my favourite streets in Glasgow and one of the nicest Streets walks, however brief it was, since I hadn’t properly appreciated the blur of angles and shapes possible to see when looking up in a place at once a beginning and ending place of adventures, for once an adventure in itself.

Thanks for reading. This is the thirty seventh Streets of Glasgow post on Walking Talking. Other nearby streets included in this series before include West Nile Street, Buchanan Street, George Square and Sauchiehall Street.

Travelling books

As written about here previously, I do a lot of reading when I’m travelling and particularly when I’m travelling to the football.  This will be all about books.

The season is not old. I have only seen Hibs play three times so far, the fourth being tonight against Asteris Tripolis. My reading matter has consisted of three books, two by women and two also library books. The first was There’s Always The Hills, the autobiography of mountaineer and writer Cameron McNeish. That hit the spot. He writes incredibly well about most things but reading McNeish makes you want to go up a mountain or just for a long walk. His perspective on the world, sustainable development and on our country’s remaining wild places is refreshing and impassioned, not at all a bad thing, plus he writes about places I know (he grew up not far from where I live) and a lot of writers I like (John Muir, Nan Shepherd, amongst others). That was read on the bus to and from Edinburgh since there was engineering works on the train line the day Hibs played Blackburn for Paul Hanlon’s testimonial.

I took The Comforters by Muriel Spark to the Runavik game the following Thursday at Easter Road. The Comforters is Spark’s first novel, published in 1957. It was quite beguiling, full of well-drawn characters, characteristic turns of phrase and lots to make one pause. It wasn’t as accomplished as some of Spark’s later books but it worked, it was fine.

For the trip to Coldstream last Sunday to see a Hibs XI, I read A Place Apart by Dervla Murphy, based on a friend’s recommendation and borrowed from the Glasgow Women’s Library. It was a short book, a paperback of 300 pages or so, but full of depth. The book is about Dervla Murphy’s journeys around Northern Ireland at the height of the Troubles, visiting and meeting with people from the Protestant and Catholic communities. Despite being written in 1978, a lot of what she writes about is very relevant to Northern Ireland and the wider world today. I have already raided the library for all of our Dervla Murphy stock, I will be visiting the GWL for much of the rest. We need people like Dervla Murphy in our world.

Tonight’s book is Bloody Scotland, an anthology of Scottish crime writers writing about historical places, published last year by Historic Environment Scotland. So far I have read the first three stories, by Lin Anderson, Val McDermid and ES Thomson, the latter particularly sticking in my mind as a gory tale set amidst the whirring machines of Stanley Mill in Perthshire. That one is another library book, incidentally. Occupational hazard.

I did think about taking a Muriel Spark book. I bought a pile of them a few months ago on a killing time mission in Waterstones at Braehead and have two left, The Mandelbaum Gate and Memento Mori. They will come with me at some point but I also have Dervla Murphy books to read, plus a Peter May crime book that I’ve had for weeks and weeks, and the Stuart Maconie book following in the footsteps of the Jarrow marchers that’s sitting in my locker at work. Luckily I have time off looming on the horizon.

I am incapable of going anywhere without something to read. Sitting on a train is especially hard. I have even been known to read some of my book before the game, sitting in my seat, as I did with both Cameron McNeish and Muriel Spark. Last season I went through a few Muriel Spark books plus crime novels (I seem to remember having a Stuart MacBride one game) and not a few nature books including Nan Shepherd and John Muir. As much as I look forward to the books, they are an added bonus to the main reason for the journey, the game. That’s the main thing.


The Joyful Kilmarnock Blues

I’ve written here before about the Proclaimers, the greatest band in the world, bar none. Sunshine on Leith is my favourite song but there are many other very fine songs in the Proclaimers’ back catalogue, far beyond ‘I’m On My Way’, ‘Letter From America’ and ‘I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)’. One of the best is ‘The Joyful Kilmarnock Blues’, from the first album ‘This Is The Story’. It’s a story song about hitching sixty miles to Kilmarnock to see Hibernian play, the journey back involving walking through the country ‘on a night when I can see with my eyes shut’. The couple of times I’ve seen the Proclaimers play, they’ve closed with it and it’s amazing live, acoustic and rousing. I remember walking along Gordon Street in Glasgow singing it last time. Not for the first time and not the last. When I’m in a good mood, most recently walking home from the bus stop after work and tramping along a seaside path, it’s often the song I reach for, particularly the verse:

‘The question doesn’t matter

The answer’s always ‘aye’

The best view of all

Is where the land meets the sky’.

Be it the seaside or crossing the Lanarkshire countryside home from Kilmarnock, that’s definitely the best view, where the land meets the sky.

Loose Ends: Glasgow Women’s Library

The last instalment of Loose Ends took me to Abbotsford, Sir Walter Scott’s house in the Borders countryside. The library was the connection that led me back to Glasgow and the Glasgow Women’s Library. I’ve been there a couple of times before, I’ve even written about it before and the GWL has been on my radar over the last few weeks owing to their technically unsuccessful campaign to be anointed Art Fund Museum of the Year. Their ‘It’s For Me’ flag flew outside the door and I was pleased to see a display of Muriel Spark’s books produced by students from Glasgow School of Art. This was right up my alley – see here for a post from last year about Muriel Spark – and ironic since I was donating one of Spark’s books to the library. I particularly liked the Public Image cover which was reflective but not totally, probably appropriate for how the public image can wildly differ from the reality. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie one was also good, quite 1930s Bauhaus. The prints were great, including the wonderful ‘PISSEUR!’ taken from A Far Cry From Kensington, printed in block capitals.

I had a good browse around the library, severely tempted by several titles on the shelves. I almost had a few poetry volumes until I remembered how big my to-read pile is, eventually settling for a book by Dervla Murphy inspired by a recommendation from a friend a few weeks ago.

Libraries are incredibly good places to find connections, even better than the Internet for lateral thinking. The GWL on this particular day could lead me back to Edinburgh since that’s where Muriel Spark was born and where The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie was set. The capital could also take me to the Scottish Parliament, a link because of the Nicola Sturgeon block in the politics section. The Jean Armour block in the poetry section could take me to any of the myriad places linked to Robert Burns, Armour’s husband, perhaps to Ayrshire or to the Burns Room at the Mitchell Library.

I never met a library I didn’t like. The GWL I love. It is a place of light in a world of darkness, particularly as I visited on the day Donald Trump came to Scotland. We need the GWL and I am proud that it’s here in Glasgow, doing good work in its community or communities to be precise. The GWL is a microcosm of what Glasgow means to me, not just new knowledge but containing vast reaches of life and experience, venturing forth to share it now and then for the benefit of all.

Thanks for reading. The next instalment of Loose Ends follows next week.

In the lead up to the 500th post, which will be in a few weeks, I’m opening this up to suggestions. If anyone has any ideas for a future post or even a Streets of Glasgow walk, please do share them. Incidentally, I already have an idea for the five hundredth post. It’s not five hundred miles.

Streets of Glasgow: Drury Street

Drury Street was a good spur-of-the-moment walk, a chance glance up West Nile Street to a street I had never been on before. Drury Street made me think of Drury Lane, a place with theatres, I think, somewhere in London’s West End. The Weegie version just has pubs and some half-decent architecture, brief as barely a couple of minutes covered the length but no less interesting for the handful of footsteps it took. I looked up and saw some interesting Greek touches, ruffles and crests atop and around the building above the Patisserie Valerie. The Yes bar was somewhere I was vaguely aware of, as also the Horseshoe Bar which has been recommended to me more than once. I heard live music from the Horseshoe and the only people stood in the street were pub bouncers and the occasional fly smoker. The flags of World Cup nations, noticeably not including our southern neighbours, flew in pub windows. I stood at the Renfield Street end and looked back, enjoying the curling street lamps, golden city buildings and a generic office block up the far end. It might have been two minutes but it was enough to see something interesting, put names to places and walk once more with my head in the skyline.

Thanks for reading. This is the thirty sixth post in the Streets of Glasgow series here on Walking Talking. Nearby streets covered in this series previously include West Nile Street, Renfield Street, Gordon Street and Mitchell Street.

In the lead up to the 500th post, which will be in a few weeks, I’m opening this up to suggestions. If anyone has any ideas for a future post or even a Streets of Glasgow walk, please do share them. Incidentally, I already have an idea for the five hundredth post. It’s not five hundred miles.


Subway journey

One afternoon recently I got the Subway into town. I bought my ticket at Govan then proceeded down the escalator just as an Outer Circle train pulled in. What made this unusual was that there was rain on the window despite the Subway being entirely underground. The Subway was one of the very few modes of transport that ran during the epic snow at the start of March for that reason though even then it finished early. Then I remembered that across the road from Govan is the depot and this train will have just entered service for the evening peak. It was good, though, to imagine the train leaving its eternal loop to take a secret route into daylight or going through a cave and a waterfall like in Tomb Raider or something.


Yep, it’s time for another post of random junk clogging up my inbox. I e-mail myself all sorts of links for possible blog posts. Since Loose Ends and Subway Surface (from this Friday Streets of Glasgow) are taking up two of my three or four posts a week, posts about other things get squeezed out. Hence posts like these with a jumble of different ideas, a gallimaufry, in fact.

First is a recent story from the East Lothian Courier about how North Berwick is one of the twenty most charming towns in Scotland, alongside Anstruther, Broughty Ferry, Crieff, Cromarty, Falkirk, Fort William, Kelso, Kirkcudbright, Millport, Oban, Pitlochry, Pittenweem, Plockton, Portree, St Andrews, Stornoway, Stromness, Tobermory and Ullapool. Apparently NB is on the list due to the birdlife and golf courses around and about. No arguments from me, even with the golf. What struck me when I saw this list is some of the surprising choices on it. I’ve been to fifteen of them and I wouldn’t say Falkirk or Fort William are really that charming. Falkirk in particular has a pleasant town house and Callander House is okay plus the Kelpies but it is a bit of a hole apart from that. Fort William is rank too, its only saving grace that any possible direction the road takes you leads to somewhere much nicer, Mallaig, Glenfinnan, Loch Ness or Glencoe.

A memorial garden to victims of the Irish and Highland famines was recently unveiled outside the People’s Palace. When I went by there the other day, the cleanup after the Transmt music festival was still in progress so I couldn’t go get a good look. The helpful People’s Palace directed me to an upstairs window where I could see the garden and to the Winter Gardens where there was an interesting, informative and reasoned display about why the garden was there. I hope to get back for a closer look in the next few weeks. It is thoroughly appropriate that it is there, long overdue perhaps, and done in a sensitive but powerful way.

The East Lothian Courier yielded another article about a statue of an archer that has been put up recently by the river Esk in Musselburgh. Apparently it will be part of a larger arrow trail around Musselburgh relating to various major events in the town’s past including Roman settlements, battles and the Silver Arrow competition which dates from 1603. I hope to get there soon. I like imaginative public art like that.

In fashion news, there was a story on the BBC News website that tight swimming trunks are the least popular garment in Britain. I don’t do Speedos, you’ll be glad to hear. Other unpopular items include in order leather trousers (don’t like them), Crocs (or them though I believe they are popular in hospitals because they clean up good), flares (distress), clothes with elbow patches (yup), tracksuit (in context, fine), red trousers (check out the New Town Flaneur account on Twitter for red breeks capers), Uggs (whatever), deep v-neck T-shirts (anything that shows chest hair is too much for me) and sweater vests (don’t do them – too thick). I would also add jeans with holes in them. I absolutely hate them. Why pay a fortune for something that happens anyway? If you want ventilation, put on shorts.

And finally a nice story from the Edinburgh Evening News of a primary school pupil who has brought about friendship benches in her school playground where lonely kids can sit and other kids can go and befriend them. The benches were made by the charity Scottish War Blinded. I can’t be cynical about stuff like this, I just think that’s great. All power to Alix.

Anyway, enough of this. That’s my inbox clearer for just now, until the next time.

Loose Ends: Abbotsford

My bright and sunny Borders day trip was originally going to consist of a trip to Melrose Abbey, a clear link to the last Loose Ends destination, Dunfermline, through Robert the Bruce. On the train down to Tweedbank, however, I got a suggestion to go to Abbotsford, the home of Sir Walter Scott, historical and not far from Tweedbank. I was soon off the train and setting off on foot for Abbotsford, passing through a housing scheme and by a pleasant pond with ducks, swans and a tree-filled island in the middle.

After paying in, my first stop was the visitor centre which was interesting in its way, a nice blend of text, pictures and objects. It didn’t shy away from talking about the financial difficulties Scott had later in his life or indeed that he was an arch-Tory, being virulently against the 1832 Reform Act. Being a Hibs fan myself, I was just glad reference wasn’t made to a certain football team named after one of Scott’s novels (or really a dance hall named after one of Scott’s novels), Heart of Midlothian.

The visitor centre would have been enough for me since I’m not really a fan of big hooses but it was good manners to go down to the house. I was handed a state-of-the-art audio guide which I ditched whenever possible since I’m a reader by instinct and inclination. What the audio guide did yield, and one of the battalion of volunteers elaborated on, was a link with Dunfermline, namely wood on the walls of the entrance hall that came from the Abbey when the newer church was built in 1818. The entrance hall was fine, a riot of suits of armour, heraldic crests and other yad Scott collected over his life, including a plaster cast of Robert the Bruce’s skull, another connection to Dunfermline where most of his remains are buried.

Next door was his study, a proper old-fashioned room lined with books on two levels. That would have been worth the admission money alone, if not for the library. I think I started drooling when I got in there. It was huge with bay windows looking out over the Tweed. I spent a good while in there, perusing the books, most with Scott’s cipher and portcullis motif on the spine, then peering out towards the river. The audio guide informed me it was the most substantial writer’s library in the world and I could believe it. It is the most glorious room and like when I went to Trinity College Dublin, I considered building a little fort and never, ever leaving.

Before I left there were diverting displays about Scott’s often fraught friendship with JMW Turner and his career as a lawyer and sheriff at Selkirk. I could easily have found connections between Abbotsford and other places through those but not this time. It’s through the library, the ultimate node of accumulated knowledge, and there are a few old libraries in Scotland, Innerpeffray and Leighton’s Library to name but two. But as I left Abbotsford, thoughts turned to a library I’ve meant to explore more for a while and it’s why the next Loose Ends trip will be to the Museum of the Year finalist Glasgow Women’s Library.

Thanks for reading. The next instalment of Loose Ends follows next week.


Subway Surface: Kinning Park-Govan

As I walked past Kinning Park Subway, I was asked directions. Since I had passed where they were looking for only a few minutes before, I was able to oblige. I was now at Plantation Park and I stopped because my feet were lowpin’ and I needed a drink. Plus to make notes. Plantation Park was a pleasant green space, one of many in the city though much quieter than at the Botanics and in town.

I soon turned onto Paisley Road West and there was a feeling of being on familiar ground and of relief too. I knew where I was. The end was near. My feet may have been pounding but I still felt good, not flagging despite the distance covered.

The thirteenth station was Cessnock and I already knew I had to get a photo of the station gates, a relic of the old Subway prior to its modernisation in the 1970s. I did so though I hadn’t realised that the building above Cessnock is part of a very handsome crescent designed by Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson. It was an unexpected joy and even better to see it lived in rather than as a museum piece. The Paisley Road West walk led me past lots of food shops with very nice smells, particularly kebabs. I desisted, however. Nearer Edmiston Drive there were quite a few new housing developments springing up, which was nice to see.

At Ibrox Subway I felt quite conspicuous. There was a view to Ibrox Stadium and the Rangers Megastore. The combined effect of this and the Louden Tavern was enough to bring out the deepest Hibs fan in me, particularly the Louden Tavern which proclaimed itself to be not just a pub, since it had a beer garden too.

Between Ibrox and Govan were quite a few factories, many of them still going, including Maritime House which looked particularly venerable. I came to Orkney Street, much more urban than the islands, but interesting with a view of the back of the old police station with bars still on the windows. It is now an enterprise centre. I soon turned by the TSB back onto Govan Road, crossing the road and finding myself back at Govan, the walk completed in four hours and eight minutes. Again I had the Mary Barbour statue to myself. From there, I decided to do the whole thing again, though this time on the Subway itself, doing a whole loop before getting off in the town.

As the Subway train looped, I thought about the walk just concluded. I had seen many parts of Glasgow, the city centre, industrial and the chic, some areas which have seen better days and others flourishing. I had seen architecture from Rennie Mackintosh and ‘Greek’ Thomson, both south of the river, the best side, as well as 1960s concrete jungle sprawl near Cowcaddens and Kinning Park. I crossed the Clyde twice and the Kelvin twice too, once each on the longest leg of the journey, Govan to Partick. I passed three of the city’s 33 public libraries – Partick, Hillhead and Ibrox – and at least four branches of Subway. I passed four statues, including two featuring women – Mary Barbour and the one commemorating the Spanish Civil War by the river. Plus of course fifteen Subway stations, the guiding posts that kept me right throughout this walk around the many parts of Glasgow. My favourite stretches were less familiar, from Hillhead to St. George’s Cross with the pigeon-dwelling statue and diversity, plus Kinning Park to Ibrox, the Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson crescent and being on familiar ground once more yet still seeing something new at almost every turn. That’s the object of the exercise, after all, and it’s why it’s worth following your feet some times. What can be seen will make life more interesting, for good or bad, plus your other senses will be satisfied, guaranteed.