Saturday Saunter: Writing and reading

Good Saturday,

This Saturday Saunter is being written on Monday night, indeed straight after the fourth anniversary post. I still have Skipinnish on in the background, the Gaelic version of Home On The Sea for those interested. This will be posted on Saturday morning when I’ll be heading to Motherwell to watch Hibs. The last time I was in Motherwell was a freezing cold night in January to do the exact same thing. The evening was notable as the last game of the Neil Lennon era though the pies were braw and I could see the twinkly lights of Lanarkshire from my perch high up in the away stand. That was a whole lot better than watching the game.

Anyway, last Saturday I was at the football then went to the Edinburgh International Book Festival to see Kathleen Jamie. Kathleen Jamie is an excellent essayist and poet but the talk was immense on Saturday. I left with a big cheeser on my face. The journalist Chitra Ramaswamy chaired and she was excellent, really steeped in Jamie’s work and asking insightful questions. As a person with a crap attention span, I tend to scribble lots of notes at these things though my notes from this event are wild, in and out of lines and some doubled up. Thankfully the Book Festival Livetweeted the event so I can go back and look at their timeline. She talked a lot about Inuit cultures, climate change and the business of writing. It was brilliant. I also came away with a copy of her new book Surfacing, which I read a few pages of on the way home, determined to keep it good and not gulp it down. I was briefly tempted to go get it signed but I seriously doubted my ability not to pee my pants. Plus there was a colossal queue.

On the way to the football last week, I read two zines, one of which was Love Tove, a selection of pieces about Tove Jansson, creator of the Moomins. Tove Jansson seems to have been an incredible person, a deep and clear thinker and skilled writer and illustrator, and the zine conveyed the respect and love many around the world have for her and her work. A passage from Natasha Gilmore’s piece about the Groke and grieving has stuck with me the last few days. ‘Learning to seek love, instead of shying away from it, can be a challenge for those trying to protect themselves from its inevitable losses. But Jansson’s brilliant book reminded me of what a treasure love, in its many facets, truly is. Love is what reminds us of what is warm, alive, vital and worth waking up for’.

Very true. I’m not sure how widely available Love Tove is. I got it from Category Is Books in Govanhill. Read it if you can.

The book I’m still trying to finish as I write this on Monday is The Pebbles On The Beach by Clarence Ellis. It’s going into the differences between igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic stones at the moment. Motherwell isn’t far away so it might be a short book I take with me today.

Anyway, that’s the Saturday Saunter for today, Saturday 31st August 2019. The August digest follows tomorrow, a clearing my inbox post on Wednesday. Have a great weekend, whatever you end up doing. Cheers the now.

Alternative Edinburgh

As is probably well known on this blog by now, I have a hearty dislike of Edinburgh during the month of August. As a sensory overload, it’s hard to beat. Unfortunately it is often like that the other eleven months of the year too. Fortunately, having grown up in East Lothian and partly being educated in the capital means I have a broad knowledge of the place and how to avoid the worst of the madness. For example, the Calton Road entrance of Waverley Station is incredibly handy, which I use when heading to Easter Road to avoid the leafleters and craziness around Princes Street. Or the walkway through the station that cuts out Waverley Bridge and the Mound.

Recently I came up with a list of some of my favourite places in Edinburgh. Some of them are on the tourist trail, most aren’t.

The Royal Botanic Garden – 

The Botanics is often busy but it’s location a mile north of the city centre means there’s a bit of respite. It has incredible views over the city including the best one of Edinburgh Castle where it looks like a proper fortress rather than like it loves itself. It is very easy to find a place to yourself in the Botanics, just walk off a path. My favourite part is the John Muir Grove with sequoias. I’ve done a lot of my best thinking in the Botanics.

Hermitage of Braid – 

Another green place outwith the city centre. The Hermitage sits underneath Blackford Hill. It’s a strip of greenness with a burn running through the middle. It’s peaceful.

Newhaven Harbour – 

I often see Newhaven Harbour in my Facebook feed. It is very photogenic with its lighthouse and yachts. It is also fairly quiet and outwith the city centre, not far from Ocean Terminal.

Lochend Park – 

Lochend Park isn’t the most glamorous park in the world. It has a loch and might be a bit overgrown. It has a playpark for bairns and benches so weary travellers can eat their lunch before going to the football at Easter Road, which is just over the wall. It’s also near where I went to primary school so I know it well.

Gloucester Lane – 

This is a street leading down from the New Town to Stockbridge. There’s a birdhouse on one of the houses. It is pretty and also quite unlike Edinburgh. It looks like a set of stables.

Dunbar’s Close – 

Dunbar’s Close is a small, neat garden at the back of the High Street. It’s in a lot of tourist books but it is fairly quiet. It’s an oasis in the heart of the city, removed from the hordes.

Craigmillar Castle – 

My favourite castle in Edinburgh. I believe it has been used as a location in Outlander and a photo I took there appeared in some guidebook. Craigmillar is fairly awkward by public transport, necessitating either a walk from Craigmillar or the Royal Infirmary. It is historically interesting, with deep links to Mary, Queen of Scots, and it has good views over eastern Edinburgh, East Lothian and Midlothian.

That’s my alternative Edinburgh list. Hopefully this post doesn’t result in these wonderful places being deluged. If visiting the capital in August, my main advice is be prepared. It is mad. Plan your routes and look after yourself in all senses. Edinburgh is a beautiful city with plenty of charms. Some of them are lesser-spotted than others.


It’s Monday and a special post because the Walking Talking blog turns four today. It’s out of nappies and at nursery now. To be honest I forgot about the anniversary until WordPress reminded me so this is a live post. It’s about 6 in the evening here in Glasgow and I’m not long home from work. It’s sunny and warm outside my window and a train has just rolled past. They do that a lot around here. My soundtrack as I start this is Skipinnish’s new album, beginning with the joyous Anchors of the Soul.

When I started writing this blog, I didn’t know how it would go. It was a way to get words out of me and into the world. To some extent it’s still like that though I know some people actually read them, which is great. The words have changed from being on whatever I feel like to a wee bit more disciplined, with all the series and the havers I put out here every Saturday.

Our blog has taken in a lot of these islands, including Cambridge, London, Belfast and Dublin as well as a whole lot of Scotland. Earlier today I was thinking about an adventure I took to York a few years back. I love York. It’s incredibly historical and I always like going there. The National Railway Museum is one of the best places on the planet and York Minster is a gorgeous church. It’s no Durham Cathedral but it’s no’ bad. Anyway, when I was walking around the walls I came across a bit of graffiti which posed a question: Why Not? At the time I thought about the wonderful Glasgow comedian Arnold Brown who often posed that very question in his stand-up. Sometimes I can be too cautious in life and I see that question now not as a funny line but as a mission statement. Well, why not?

In its 650+ posts, the blog seems to have reflected my moods and inclinations, my interests and predilections. It is, however, more rooted in Glasgow than ever before and that makes me happy. Last weekend I stood under the flagpole at Queen’s Park, looking over the city. I was there on blog business but as ever it was more than that. Being able to look over the city and feel like it’s home, really home, and spot familiar landmarks as much as unfamiliar terrain was wonderful. I am an east coast person to my fingertips but I am a very proud Glaswegian too. Of the south side, in fact, always the best side.

The blog has also delved into my twin loves, football and history. Sometimes football history. I try not to show my frustrations when Hibs don’t play well – as is the case at the moment – though my travels to watch the Cabbage have often helped the blog, particularly when doing Intercity and Loose Ends, destinations dictated by the fixture list. Football is a release from the here and now, whatever the final score at the end of the game. One of my favourite places is Cathkin Park, the second Hampden Park and once the home of Third Lanark, the terracing slowly being reclaimed by nature. I read a description of it once that it’s like a cathedral. I think that’s true, holding up Camille Pissarro’s credo that ‘blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where other people see nothing’.

What’s next? Well, there is a post about places to visit in Edinburgh, which appears here on Wednesday. For the blog, I’m not sure. Personally the rest of the year looks mentally busy and I may need to cut down the posts. But I’m a writer and I can’t help it. One day I want to write a book, probably psychogeographic, maybe about Glasgow. Some wiseacre said that you should write the kind of book you would want to read. That’s my view of this blog anyway. I write what I want to read.

Anyway, I would like to close by thanking the readers of this blog for choosing to alight here, for following or commenting. I’m lucky that my comments section is a benign place, though sometimes populated by stories of mean seagulls, and I like reading what folk have to say as it helps me to think differently. To those friends and family in real life who have said nice things, cheers indeed. Four years. Wow.

Intercity: St. Andrews

The last Intercity walk of the day and it was St. Andrews. I decided to get the walk done before I went to get something for my tea. There were a few contenders in St. Andrews. I decided to do the walk I do if I’m just out for a hurl, through the grounds of the Cathedral then up the Scores, ending at the Martyr’s Monument. This being the east coast there was a haar (sea mist) though it wasn’t completely all-enveloping. Enough to deal with though the sun was trying to break through and it being July it was still a bit warm. The Cathedral tower was peeking through the mist and down below in the churchyard it was busy with tourists.

As I came towards the Castle there were proper seaside flowers, hardy, perennials that won’t grace the Chelsea Flower Show any time soon. The Castle always looks the part and there were a few folk still dotting around its grounds. Across the road some of the houses were covered in foliage, a sure sign of poshness that led me to whistle the Red Flag for much of the walk, for once the slower, traditional version rather than the jazzier Billy Bragg one. I passed grand Oxbridge-esque University buildings mixed with newer constructions. I was reminded that I was once advised to study Logic and Metaphysics. I’ve never been sure exactly why. It was a school teacher years ago. I’ve always thought philosophy has absolutely no use to the actual world. This thought carried me all the way down to the Martyr’s Monument, subject of a Loose Ends post earlier in the year, and there was a very seaside smell down there, either fish or bird shit. Probably the former since there were quite a few seagulls down there, especially later as I tried to eat my chippy. Strangely some Japanese folk were taking photos of the seagulls. Do they have seagulls in Japan? With that the Intercity walk ended, enough town and gown for one day.

Thanks for reading. Another Intercity walk follows next week. The Intercity page has links to other posts in the series.

Saturday Saunter: Writers, zines and pebbles

Good morning,

Welcome to this Saturday Saunter, as ever being written early, this time on Monday night. Playing in the background is ‘Into The Valley’ by the Skids, suitably stirring music to start writing a piece. I’m also going to write up some other posts tonight too so I might be at my keyboard for a while.

This post appears on Saturday when I will be in Edinburgh to watch Hibs. After the game, though, I am staying in the capital to go see Kathleen Jamie at the Book Festival. The Book Festival is one of the few parts of the Festival circus that I can handle since it is fairly sedate, involves books and talking about them. Kathleen Jamie is one of my favourite writers. Whenever she has a new book out is an excuse to put flags out in my world. Her essays combine curiosity with bare, beautiful writing. As a person who can be overly verbose at times, reading Kathleen Jamie is a reminder of how writing is done right. Her last book, which was poetry, I bought and read when in Cambridge a few years ago. I am overjoyed that Surfacing is out next month and I’ll have to pace myself so I don’t gulp the book down whole.

This is a rare day when I’ll be travelling to the football with a backpack so I will have a notebook as well as a book. Today’s travelling book is actually a zine I bought last weekend. It is called Love Tove and it’s a zine about Tove Jansson, another skilled writer and creator of The Moomins. I bought it in the wonderful Category Is Books in Govanhill pretty much on the spur of the moment. I was actually there for something else and ended up with a bag full of printed matter that I’ll be working through in the coming weeks. I had read about Tove Jansson on Twitter earlier in the day, in the context of inspiring nature writers, and that prompted the zine purchase. Glad I did. Even the cover is beautiful.

Last week’s book, The Pebbles on the Sand by Clarence Ellis, isn’t finished as I write this on Monday but hopefully it will be done by the weekend. I’m about halfway through. It was interesting, going into the nature of waves, how stones end up where they are and how they are made up. It’s actually really interesting. I seem to be allergic to science and even I’m keeping up with it. Maybe after tonight’s writing I’ll read some more.

A book I picked up on Friday was The Weatherhouse by Nan Shepherd. So far I’ve only managed past Amy Liptrot’s introduction but hopefully I’ll get through it. My pile is growing again with little prospect of finishing it all.

On the dial now is ‘Roll Me Away’ by Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band. Yep, I know. The posts I’m writing up tonight are the latest instalments of Loose Ends, my connections series. They’ll be here some time in September. I managed three links yesterday about Glasgow, which was great. I travelled very light yesterday, not even carrying a notebook, which is very bad writer practice, so my notes were made on my phone. I might finally managing the concept of a paperless office. Maybe not, though.

Anyway, that’s the Saturday Saunter for today, Saturday 24th August 2019. Tomorrow is another Intercity walk, this time St. Andrews. Wednesday is about Edinburgh. In the meantime, have a lovely weekend. Peace.


Bonus Aberdeen walk

In choosing the street for the second Aberdeen Intercity walk, which appeared here on Sunday 8th September 2019, I came down to either the Esplanade or Pittodrie Street. The Esplanade won. I did Pittodrie Street anyway, since it’s a street I associate with Aberdeen and it’s near the beach.

I started behind the Richard Donald Stand, the huge two-tiered stand that dominates Pittodrie Stadium, home for now of Aberdeen FC. It being a Monday afternoon not much was occurring at Pittodrie. A woman walked into the club shop, the door to a club Portakabin stood ajar. All was calm. I actually like Pittodrie. It’s mismatched, cold and a bit rundown, not to mention the overzealous stewarding, but at least it has character which is probably more than its proposed out-of-town replacement will. I looked down Merkland Lane and saw the stark grey granite turnstile edifice. It looks the part.

Within yards I was back on a quiet residential city street. Neighbours blethered to each other and car doors opened and closed. Student flats had sprung up since my last visit. Signs declared them to be homes, not halls. In a few steps I couldn’t see the football ground. I could just have taken a wrong turning.

Thank you for reading. The Aberdeen Intercity walk referred to above, about the Esplanade can be found here. The first Aberdeen Intercity walk, which was about Union Street, can be found here. The other Intercity posts can be found on the Intercity page.

Intercity: Dundee II (Commercial Street)

The second walk of the day and Dundee again. The first instalment of Intercity in the City of Discovery was past Tannadice and Dens Park. I also associate Dundee with Commercial Street, which runs from the McManus to the Tay, so it was natural to pick it for Dundee’s second Intercity walk. I had circled the McManus twice, fine building that it is, and sat on a bench before I took to Commercial Street. A 22 bus had passed me each time and my warped brain brought up a Taylor Swift song. Forever after, I may know the 22 in Dundee as the ‘I don’t know about you’ bus. I looked up at the Northern Assurance building, crowned by a turret and a basket, then turned down Commercial Street, which was slightly more run down than I remembered. Busy, though, with folk waiting for buses at various points. That made it a little difficult to take photos with some kind soul even ducking out my road as I took a photo. Some handsome buildings stand on Commercial Street with some fine doorways and Victorian buildings throughout, some even with towers as on the corner with Seagate.

By St. Paul’s Cathedral (not that one) stood two statues, one naval admiral Adam Duncan and the other Dundee icon Oor Wullie, one of the trail liberally scattered across Scotland this summer. This one featured a brown coloured Oor Wullie with his hair and dungarees golden. I’m not the hugest fan of the Oor Wullie figures, the Toy Story, seabird and star ones in Dundee, North Berwick and Glasgow excepted, though it was there. Even weirder was a hair mannequin in a hairdressers’ window. It bore a very luxurious mane of hair with a generous, though styled beard. It looked like Noel Edmonds if he suddenly invested in Just For Men. It might have been the work of a hair artiste whose services were offered across the road. I can only imagine what a hair artiste does. Probably something worthy of the Turner Prize.

The walk finished and I’m not sure if I know more about Dundee than when I began but it was fine all the same. I wrote the notes for this one in the nearby V and A museum, sat on a bench on the stairs. As I scribbled, I people-watched and listened, another walk done, just ready to be written down.

Thanks for reading. Another Intercity walk follows next week. The first Dundee Intercity walk can be found here, with the other instalments in the series on the Intercity page.

By popular demand, a post about my favourite places in Edinburgh will appear here a week on Wednesday.

Saturday Saunter: Earplugs, role models and books

Good Saturday,

Unusually this is being started on Sunday night as I’m busy on both Tuesday and Wednesday nights this week, when normally I might think to write this post. It’s just about 10pm and I’ve had a busy day, walking in the rain on Bute. It was much better than it sounds. We had driven the long way to get to Bute, taking the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it ferry from Colintraive to Rhobodach and then down to Rothesay and Kilchattan Bay from there. Anyway, home now and in the background I have a Skipinnish playlist from YouTube.

The blink-and-you’ll-miss-it ferry

This post appears on a Saturday morning when I’ll be off to Edinburgh to watch Hibs. It’s going to be a ‘go to the game and straight home’ sort of occasion as I can’t be doing with Edinburgh during the Festival circus. Last year I bought a packet of earplugs and I’ve put a set in my jacket pocket and my backpack. They worked a treat last year and they’ll probably work today especially as leafleters were gathered beyond the Playhouse when I was in Edinburgh two weeks ago, a zone I would normally consider safe.

The schools have just gone back here in Glasgow. I should explain for non-Scottish readers that school holidays in Scotland go from the end of June to mid-August. Our education system is generally different from England, as is our legal system, of course. It’s traditional that the weather gets nicer when the schools go back and it was sunny and warm on Thursday when the schools went back in Renfrewshire (where I work) though wet and windy on Friday as I write these words. The best part of the schools going back for me, a contentedly childless person, is the fact the museums and shops are quieter if I’m off on a weekday. Happy days. Another bonus is that I’m long past school age and I don’t have to brave school again myself.

Greta Thunberg is a remarkable person. As a society we need to do a lot more to deal with the effects of climate change and Greta Thunberg is spreading a valuable and essential message. Unfortunately she gets it tight on social media on account of her age, what she’s saying and because she’s autistic. I read a thread on Twitter the other day that mentioned that she’s a rare autistic role model since a lot of media portrayals of our condition tend to be negative and driven by stereotypes. They don’t reflect the diversity of neurodiverse folk, how many of us have empathy, how we can communicate and how we are not serial killing loners. Changing that will take time and any positive contributions that people can make must be embraced and cherished, especially if they might actually help move our society forward.

I haven’t been reading terribly much this weather. A fortnight ago, I took my favourite book, The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd, when I was heading to the football. Today I have a book I got for my birthday, The Pebbles On The Beach by Clarence Ellis, which from the blurb and the cover looks like my kind of book. Also on my pile just now is a Marsali Taylor crime novel that’s been there for ages, the new Stuart MacBride and a book by Diego Maradona about the 1986 World Cup. A book I got recently was the rather cool Spirits of Glasgow featuring illustrations by Jo Whitby and a story by Chris McQueer. I got it as a pre-order (it’s not out properly until September). Don’t panic, I’ve not turned into a blagging, bragging book blogger – I heard about the pre-sale on Twitter and promptly bought a copy. The illustrations are beautiful, quite like Neil Slorance in style, and I’m looking forward to reading it properly.

I often like to catchup with American late night comedy shows and my favourite is the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Stephen Colbert was interviewed the other day by CNN anchor Anderson Cooper and amidst the discussions about Donald Trump, they talked very movingly about grief. I sat and watched it this morning and it was profound. We do not talk enough as a society about serious matters of life and death. We get too preoccupied by trivial nonsense.

On a brighter note, and not at all trivial, this very Saturday morning Natalie from Wednesday’s Child has published an ex-pat’s guide to Glasgow so have a read at that.

Anyway, that’s us for today. Intercity is back tomorrow and it’s Dundee for the second time. It features one of my favourite bizarre photographs I’ve ever taken. Wednesday will be a bonus walk from my recent trip to Aberdeen. Another Saturday Saunter will appear a week today. In the meantime, have a great weekend. Cheers for now.





London Road sculptures

When I’m heading to the football at Easter Road, I tend to walk along London Road on the way. London Road is a tree-lined boulevard for much of the route with suitably imposing 19th century buildings on one side too. In the curve is a sculpture by Eduardo Paolozzi, The Manuscript Of Monte Cassino, in three parts across the grass. They normally sit outside St. Mary’s RC Cathedral up the road in Picardy Place but have been moved due to building works. I actually like them better in London Road. The sculpture is bronze with stones from the old Leith Central Station. Paolozzi’s father and grandfather were arrested during World War II and sent to Canada, their ship sunk by a torpedo off the Irish coast. The sculpture deals not only with religion (Monte Cassino is an abbey in Italy) but also the traveller (as shown by the foot) and acting as a memorial to those lost on the Arandora Star. I didn’t know the story until I re-read the information board just now. I looked at the sculpture and snapped photos on a warm night recently without being aware of its context. I like Paolozzi’s work anyway. It is modern and unlike anything else. By a busy city road it is easy to miss it. I was glad I stopped to look.

Intercity: Dunfermline

A day of Intercity walks began in Dunfermline. Dunf is blessed/cursed with a very good bus service to Glasgow, with four or five buses an hour. Of course the day I was there saw the bus timetables in Fife change which flummoxed me a bit fitting in the later destinations. But it was possible. The timetable booklets at Dunfermline bus station were going like nobody’s business. An hour later, the Glasgow booklets were gone. Anyway, logistics worked out and fortified by the inevitable, incredible steak bridies, the Dunfermline Intercity walk began by Dunfermline City Chambers, known by the rather prosaic handle Dunfermline Customer Contact Centre, a prosaic name for a beautiful town house building quite like a Disney castle. The only municipal building I’ve seen like it is Renfrew Town Hall. This walk covered a few streets, beginning at the top of the hill and ending near the bottom by Andrew Carnegie’s birthplace. It was either that or the walk along Halbeath Road to East End Park but I get in trouble if I write too much about football here.

I soon passed Dunfermline Abbey with its spire bearing the words ‘King Robert The Bruce’. Bruce’s remains are buried within the Abbey, all except the heart which is in Melrose. Sadly I had no time for the Abbey Nave, a particular favourite place of pillars and stained glass put together by the masons who brought us Durham Cathedral. There was a decent, meaty food smell nearby, possibly coming from a pub just up the way. Nearby was a nightclub called Life. I always think life is better without being in nightclubs, to be honest. A sign by the Palace directed people to the various extremities of the Fife Coastal Path, North Queensferry and Culross closer, St. Andrews further away. I was to be there a few hours later in the day. By the sign was a plaque about Charles I, the last monarch born in Scotland, born indeed in Dunfermline in 1600. The plaque was sympathetic, maybe even obsequious, declaring that Charles met ‘his death with dignity and courage’.

Moving swiftly on I walked under the Palace, Royal place and Abbey guesthouse. I let a family pass and the girl walked by stomping, as little girls often do. I could hear kids running about the Palace – that’s fine with me as long as some history goes in along the way. I was now on Monastery Street, pedestrianised as far as the Cenotaph. I had never seen the Cenotaph before. It was present but almost an afterthought, hidden in the corner. There was a Garden for Heroes across the way too. As I walked with the Palace beside, the Abbey above and the river water in my ears, I was reminded very much of Stirling, history all around me which is never a bad thing.

Before I came to the Carnegie birthplace, I passed a ghost sign above a shop. The next door building clearly housed a nationalist with Yes flags hanging out the windows. They were bang up-to-date since the Yes campaign for independence has recently changed its branding. That’s the type of details I notice. I try not to, honest. I don’t have a scooby how Andrew Carnegie felt about Scottish independence but his birthplace had some rather cool details on the outside, panels on the wall depicting discovery (with a ship) and industry with a miller’s wheel and some tools. It seemed a good place to end this walk and it was decent, a walk through one of my favourite towns in Scotland, history as ever with every step.

Thanks for reading. Another Intercity walk follows next week. Dunfermline has also featured in Loose Ends.