Loose Ends: Charlotte Square Gardens

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Leith gave way to the New Town and the Festival bustle, if the more civilised Edinburgh International Book Festival in Charlotte Square Gardens. I was there anyway to see Kathleen Jamie and had got there a bit early to buy books and sit. It was busy, being a sunny and warm August Saturday evening and I plonked myself down on the grass. The connection with Leith Links came through me being a voracious reader but also through Charlotte, the square named after the Queen and confusingly also first daughter of George III or so Wikipedia tells me. Queen Charlotte Street is just off Leith Links. The Gardens are closed for most of the year, opened only if you know the right person or for everyone in August during the Book Festival. The rest of the time Charlotte Square is quiet, one of the nicest parts of the New Town. August it is busy, not as bad as the High Street but enough to be doing with.

To the connections, then, and I could go anywhere related to any of the authors speaking at this year’s Book Festival or indeed anywhere in Scotland which has a book festival, like Wigtown, Dumfries House or Lennoxlove, to pick three off the top of my head. Gin trollies could take me to just as many places which make gin, a burgeoning industry in these islands. I don’t know nor particularly care if our First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, drinks gin – she’s a big reader, though – and the fact her official residence is on Charlotte Square could take me somewhere linked to her, the SNP or the nationalist cause. Or just to a square someplace. The possibilities are endless, just as many as could be found in the books across the way in the bookshop or the heads of those writers talking away at the Festival. As long as we read, we’ll be all right. That’s what I think.

Thanks for reading. Another Loose Ends post will follow next week. Other Loose Ends posts can be found on the Loose Ends page.

Incidentally, soon will come the 700th post here. I’m opening it up to suggestions. Any ideas of what I should write about will be gratefully received. Or questions for a question and answer. Any thoughts, put them below or in a message another way.

Saturday Saunter: The Unexpected Return

Good Saturday to you,

It is actually Saturday too, as I write this. Just about half eight. The sun has come up and there is a cold, pale blue light out my window. The trees aren’t moving so much so there can’t be much wind. I am currently in the midst of time off and that usually means I don’t post anything here either but I woke up this morning with an almost overwhelming urge to write. So, here I am, laptop on my knee, ready to write something.

It’s been a good week or so off so far. I’ve been on ferries, buses and trains and I’ve even managed to read a fair bit. Yesterday was excellent with a trip to Arran and Lamlash, a part of the island I hadn’t been to before. Despite the cloud and the cold, Lamlash was lovely with views across to the Holy Isle and the mainland in the distance. I’m always a believer that going on a ferry is like being on your holidays and I definitely got that sense yesterday. I still have it lingering now though I have the feeling it will be expunged at Easter Road later. One of the best parts of being by the sea, particularly in the west coast, is the big skies and the sky was particularly special on the way back to Ardrossan, one side towards the mainland sunny, the starboard side dark and stormy looking. As we sat on the train in Ardrossan, waiting for it to leave, a nice sunset broke over Arran, some pinks and purples at the edge of that piercing blue.

On Wednesday I was in Dundee and that was great too, with a whole bunch of street art. I was thinking yesterday about one of the paintings I saw in the McManus, a John Houston one of a western sunset, all yellows and oranges. I like Dundee more every time I’m there and the street art was immense. My favourites related to mental health, a subject particularly close to my heart. There was a black dog sculpture at Dundee University and a mural by the Hilltown Clock of Oor Wullie with his bucket over his head. Around him were words ‘Don’t Push Me I’m Close To The Edge’ and ‘I’m Trying Not To Lose My Head’. In a close by the bus station there were a few graffiti creations which weren’t particularly kind to our current Prime Minister, sentiments with which I heartily concur.

This week I’ve managed to spend time with some of my favourite people as well as time myself too. Edinburgh on Tuesday was particularly good. I went to see the Hibs Development Squad play the Hearts Reserves (surprisingly well attended for a Tuesday afternoon with a few laddies there who probably should have been at the school). Before the game I walked along the Water of Leith and sat and ate my lunch at a weir at the edge of the Dean Village. A heron sat on the weir, tall with a curved neck or preening. It was a far nicer spectacle than the Antony Gormley sculpture just along the way, which just ruins the whole scene. I know I’ve ranted about that before but it’s enough to appreciate a beautiful place without bringing more human intervention and interpretation to it.

My reading has been mixed this week. My OU chapter has been read in some unlikely places, including in the stand before the wee derby and in the Kibble Palace at the Glasgow Botanics on Thursday. I’ve read a couple of memoirs, by Jonathan Van Ness, who stars in the reboot of Queer Eye For The Straight Guy, and footballer Mark Walters. Both were difficult for different reasons. Van Ness wrote about his troubles with addiction while Mark Walters discussed some of the despicable racism he experienced playing here in Scotland. The discussions of racism in football are particularly pertinent at the moment after the England-Bulgaria game last week and it isn’t enough merely to condemn; as a society we need to change these attitudes for they are deeply rooted for many.

I think I’m going to take Surfacing by Kathleen Jamie with me to Edinburgh today. It’s one of those books I don’t want to rush as it’ll be a while until the next one and Kathleen Jamie’s words need savoured.

It’s also been very cold this last couple of days and unseasonably so for October. Summer feels a long time away. The clocks of course go back tonight and I just hate it. I’m a fan of natural light and it becomes ever more precious this time of year. I’m looking forward to a good walk before the game today in Edinburgh and probably a trip east on Monday.

Anyway, that’s the unexpected Saturday Saunter for today, Saturday 26th October 2019. The blog will return more properly with Loose Ends on Wednesday and that will be in Edinburgh back when it was warm. A Saturday Saunter will be here next Saturday and the October digest next Sunday. In the meantime I’m going to try and do some more writing, maybe some OU reading. Have a very nice weekend, whatever you do. Peace.

Loose Ends: Leith Links

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The last link took me to the Arandora Star Memorial Garden in a quiet corner of Glasgow city centre. As I was there, I thought of a Proclaimers song, Scotland’s Story, about how our country was essentially built by immigrants. One settled in Leith so I decided that the next instalment of Loose Ends would take me to Leith, more specifically Leith Links, a park I know well. Leith Links is a place I often sit in before going to the football, reading and often eating lunch on a bench there. As the name suggests it has a golfing history – we don’t do golf on the Walking Talking blog, holding to Mark Twain’s credo that it ruins a good walk – and also proper history. Near where I sat and ate my lunch was the Giant’s Brae, the remains of the mound where the English artillery gathered during the siege of Leith in 1560. I know that particular place better as Hanlon Hill, where tens of thousands of Hibs fans gathered to greet the 2016 Scottish Cup winners the day after that wonderful day. This day was warm and sunny with a few sunbathers, families and dog walkers. A football pitch was marked out but no game was in progress. I was about to go to one not far away at Easter Road so I didn’t linger long after finishing my lunch.

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Unusually the next connection was already decided since I was in Edinburgh anyway. I had two different connections ready with another place across the city only open once a year.

Thanks for reading. Another Loose Ends adventure follows in a fortnight’s time. The Loose Ends page features other parts of the adventure so far.

Skye and coos

Even if the journey’s short, going on a ferry always makes me feel like I’m on my holidays. Stepping onto the CalMac ferry to Armadale from Mallaig came when I was actually on my holidays but it was a voyage into the unknown, a trip to a part of Scotland I had never been to before. Our focus was to explore but more immediately to find breakfast, which hadn’t been immediately apparent back in Mallaig. Armadale wouldn’t oblige, with it being easier to buy clothing than any scran. The ferry had only a vending machine with only a couple of chocolate bars. Eventually we succeeded in Broadford.

The road to Broadford was suitably pleasant with views back across to the mainland and curving coastlines carrying the car forward. The ferry across had been great, not too long at 45 minutes, and it was possible to see the broadest sweep of the landscape, from the Knoydart peninsula to Skye itself and to Wester Ross. The drive brought some of this into closer focus. We also passed the Gaelic college, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, a place I had heard about and may well end up studying at one day.

After brunch in Broadford, we drove a little way further up Skye, the road becoming steadily more mountainous and dramatic as we went. I had asked to stop and take a picture towards Raasay, an island just off Skye which had captured my imagination years ago when I first started to read Sorley MacLean’s poetry. The best view didn’t come at Sconser, where the ferry runs to Raasay, but further up the road and even from Duirinish on the Kyle.

We stopped at Kyle of Lochalsh on the other side of the Skye Bridge. I thought briefly about the political struggles about that particular bridge, the tolls once levied to cross it, and about the campaigner Robbie the Pict, who I remembered the Queen’s private secretary used to refer to as ‘Mr Pict’ when responding to his letters on behalf of the monarch. The views from the bridge were glorious and they were quite evident from Kyle of Lochalsh too. The railway station was also interesting, at the pier from whence the Skye ferries used to leave.

A diversion to Plockton, a picture-postcard village, took us through Duirinish, which really tickled me. Not just for its wonderful Gaelic name but also the views across to Raasay and the free-range cows and sheep which roamed the sides of the road and occasionally the road itself. Signs did warn of this but it’s quite something to see Highland coos and sheep actually blocking traffic.

This part of our trip brought a lot of books to mind. Some people see the world through films or paintings. For me, very often, it’s books. Driving from Newtonmore towards Fort William the previous day, it was Nan Shepherd. On Skye, looking towards Raasay, it was Sorley MacLean. At Kyle of Lochalsh, it was thinking of Gavin Maxwell and his otters, who were just across across the way from there. Skye is a place with considerable tales tied to it and around it. I was just keen to be there, somewhere different, and I liked it. I wouldn’t move there but I got why it was popular and it was all the better to approach it by ferry, the best way to travel.

Saturday Saunter: Persevere and autumn colours

Good morning to you,

This Saturday Saunter is being posted as I’m probably easing into the world gently after a lie-in. No football today so I’m planning on going to a couple of exhibitions in and around the city.

My travelling book today might just be Surfacing by Kathleen Jamie, which I haven’t got round to reading yet. It did come with me to Lochaber a couple of weeks ago but I didn’t get round to it. What I did read last weekend was the superb Constitution Street by Jemma Neville. It’s quite hard to describe, various parts social history and political call to arms. Despite ostensibly being about Constitution Street in Leith, it goes far beyond the top of the Walk or the docks in its content, going deep into the lives of the people of the street, their successes and hardships. I finished it feeling a little inspired, a little more hopeful about the world and the people in it.

It’s now Wednesday night as I write this as I completely ran out of words on Monday. Runrig is on in the background.

I was thinking earlier about Halloween. It leaves me a bit cold. It always has done so I really don’t care about it. I don’t go in for the cod-spooky Twitter names and guising and everything else. Halloween and Bonfire Night can bolt for me. I saw a story in the news last week that quite a high percentage of Scots would like to ban the sale of fireworks and I wholeheartedly agree. My earphones go in and music or Netflix goes loud. In my part of suburban Glasgow, there are a fair few folk letting off fireworks in the weeks before and after 5th November and they put me on edge. I don’t have anything against Halloween, however; I just don’t like it. Plus the oncoming of Halloween and Bonfire Night means darker nights and I don’t welcome them.

What I do welcome are the autumn colours of the trees and I just saw a beautiful picture of a very yellow Katsura Tree on Facebook courtesy of Dawyck Botanic Garden, down near Peebles. I’m off soon for about ten days and I’m going to make sure there is some autumnal garden walking over that time, maybe not at Dawyck but probably in the Botanics in Edinburgh. It feels like I haven’t been there in ages. The Edinburgh Botanics (as shown above) are special, a place I’ve been to think and celebrate the wonder of trees and whatever I’ve been reading or studying at the time. I haven’t been able to linger much in Edinburgh lately so a day or two in the capital might do the trick when I’m off.

Thursday was World Mental Health Day and I thought a little bit about what I could share to mark that event. Self-care is vital. Sometimes I’m crap at it. I find visual stimuli helps. My screensavers are useful for that. My work computer usually has a picture of Tranter’s Bridge at Aberlady Bay (above). I just changed my iPad tonight to the view from the campsite I stayed at the other weekend near Arisaig, looking towards Skye and the Small Isles. Before it was my favourite Glasgow view, from the flagpole at Queen’s Park. My phone screensaver was taken not far from there, the Time For Heroes banner displayed before the start of the 2016 Scottish Cup Final. I often look at pictures. I’m a very proud uncle so my favourite little people are often among them. It’s about conjuring up good memories, the best of those days to carry us forward.

Lately I’ve been walking to and from work, about three miles each way, and despite the heavy rain showers this morning and tonight, I get a lot of benefit from it, emotionally and physically. It gives me space to think plus it gives me exercise. My walk isn’t exciting – it involves crossing a railway and a motorway as well as another busy road – but my spirits usually lift on the way back when I look east and I see the Glasgow city skyline along the curve of the M8, towers, houses, hospitals and all life. I don’t linger long as the traffic is constant under my feet. But it helps me keep perspective and that can’t be underestimated.

Anyway, that’s the Saturday Saunter for today, Saturday 12th October 2019. The blog will take a pause after Wednesday’s Loose Ends post, which features Leith Links. I will be off and it has become traditional to take a blog break too. The Walking Talking blog will return on Wednesday 30th October with another Loose Ends post, which will again be in Edinburgh. Tomorrow sees another post from up north, featuring the Isle of Skye and some cows and sheep. In the meantime, be good to one another, have a good weekend, and remember these words, not far from Constitution Street by the Water of Leith:

‘So with the darkest days behind

Our ship of hope will steer

And when in doubt just keep in mind

Our motto ‘Persevere”

Cheers.

 

Loose Ends: Arandora Star Memorial Garden

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The last Loose End was at the Caledonia Road Church in the Gorbals. My next mission was to find a place to write and scribble my notes. I crossed the river and ended up in the Arandora Star Memorial Garden, by St. Andrew’s Cathedral. It was only after I had finished my notes that I realised the garden linked neatly to Caledonia Road Church through religion, simple as that, even if Presbyterianism and Catholicism are rather different brands of Christianity. The garden was unveiled in 2010, a memorial to the 446 Italian internees on the Arandora Star, sunk by a torpedo off the coast of Ireland on 2nd July 1940. It is rather beautiful, the mirrored glass symbolising the destruction of the ship with a fountain in the middle. The glass panels bear quotes from the Bible as well as Dante and other Italian writers, some words in Italian, others in English. My first visit came a couple of Doors Open Days ago and there was a volunteer guide there, ready and willing to tell the story of the Arandora Star. There were various information boards around, talking of the history not only of the Italian community in Scotland but of Christianity and Catholicism in the city, and I read them, wandering amidst the glass.

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As I walked, I thought of a favourite Proclaimers song, ‘Scotland’s Story’, which in an echo of Robert Burns says that we are all Scotland’s story and we are all worth the same. Our country was made by immigrants. We can do worse than remember that.

‘Scotland’s Story’ talks of an Italian immigrant who settled in Leith, which might be the destination for the next Loose End. Maybe Little Sparta, a place of sculpture much like these, or George Square, the place where protests and movements are centred. Those will be for another day. I spent a few minutes more in this beautiful and sobering place where those blameless people are forever remembered.

Thanks for reading. Another Loose Ends post will appear next week. Loose Ends is a series and links to other parts of the series can be found on this page.

Glenfinnan

The first time I went to Doune Castle, in Stirlingshire, I was conflicted between my love of history and castles and my interest in Monty Python, the castle having featured in the Holy Grail. I’ve been back several times since and the castle love wins just about every time. I had the same sort of sense in Glenfinnan last weekend. I am a history buff, a lover of beautiful scenery, a train nerd, a very proud Scot and a Harry Potter fan.

The Glenfinnan Viaduct, which I crossed on a Scotrail train the following day, is a beautiful piece of engineering, certainly, and it conveys regular passenger services as well as steam trains, though it is probably best known for featuring in the film Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. It was the architecture for me, though, and nary a thought of a flying Ford Anglia crossed my mind. We walked up a path and there were a right few folk of many nationalities heading the same way to get photos. I got my own pictures and looked for a moment. I wasn’t thinking so much, instead just drinking in the scenery, letting my eyes follow the lines of the viaduct and the hills beyond.

By Loch Shiel stands the monument to the 1745 Jacobite rising. Charles Edward Stuart landed at Loch nan Uamh, near Arisaig, and his standard was raised at Glenfinnan. I get irritated at how Scottish history gets reduced to certain events and certain people, mainly men. It gets too romantic, losing nuance along the way. Glenfinnan is a busy place mainly because of the romantic history though it has a great beauty beyond the tartan stuff. The monument stands at the head of the loch and it is a dramatic vista, best appreciated behind the monument where you can’t see the bloody thing. We sat there for a few minutes, looking up the loch and letting the peace drop slow. It was possible to shut out the road noise and even the steady stream of others nearby getting their photos. A bit of Zen, right there.

Reaching Glenfinnan the next day, my train stopped by the Jacobite steam train. Many of my fellow passengers turned to the window and took photos of the train. I wasn’t fussed. I was just looking forward to crossing the viaduct, being able to appreciate the sweep of the landscape from a wonder of Scottish engineering. The scenic, beautiful and functional, all there in varying measures, all to be quickly seen before the gaze turns with the next bend. It’s why I love trains, Scotland and history and all at the same time I could be a lover of all of them at the same time.

Saturday Saunter: Stars

Good Saturday,

This is being started on Tuesday night. It’s not quite 8 and now dark outside. The nights are fair drawing in. It is very autumnal now, the leaves orange, yellow and falling in many cases. The light is that bit more intense and the temperatures cooler, particularly in the morning. As this is posted, it will be about 8am and I will be setting off for work so it might just be bracing. Luckily I walk quite fast so I’ll soon warm up.

There are many things I don’t really understand. Most kinds of science, much of human interaction and why people go out in public with ripped jeans. These are just a few. The world is a complex place and as you grow older, it only gets more complex as you gather more experience to compare and comprehend it with. I find that what helps me keep a natural equilibrium is to be out in the world, in wild places or by the sea. Even a city river can do the job if it has to. I had a very nice weekend last weekend up in Lochaber, camping near Arisaig. It was magnificent in many, many ways and we crammed a lot into the time, including a whole lot of driving and seeing some amazing places. One of the finest experiences, though, was the night we arrived. We had driven up from Edinburgh and got to the campsite just as the sun was really setting, as shown above. After a spot of dinner in nearby Mallaig, we got back to our tent in the dark. It was a clear night and the sky was scattered with stars. I didn’t know the constellations, the planets, that passed over my head but I didn’t care. For a few minutes I stood with my head up, feeling very, very small in a much larger universe. Living in the big city, I miss seeing stars. The next night was a bit cloudier but I was glad just to be able to look and forget earthly concerns just a while.

The Lochaber adventure will feature in a couple of bonus posts on the blog in the next few weeks. I know I said I wasn’t going to post on Sundays any more but I’m going to ignore that for the next couple of weeks!

In other thoughts, I’m beginning to think about how I’m going to spend a longer period of time off I have towards the end of October. A visit to Dunbar will probably happen, maybe a day or two away too. I have a notion for a trip south to Durham or maybe Liverpool. I will probably entertain notions of reading loads and manage very little. One place I want to get to is the Tramway, here in Glasgow, which is currently hosting a cool-looking exhibition by Nick Cave. I’ve seen pictures of it on the news and Twitter and at some point before 24th November I’ll need to go down there. Another place I hope to reach is Summerlee, which has an exhibition about Albion Rovers FC, closing on 27th October, right at the end of my time off. As ever, I’ll need to fit in some time to chill, sleep and do boring life admin. Plus studying, of course.

Anyway, that’s the Saturday Saunter for today, Saturday 5th October 2019. I will be back tomorrow with a Lochaber post. Wednesday will see the return of Loose Ends and it is back in Glasgow. Thanks as ever to all readers, commenters and followers. Have a very nice weekend. Cheers the now.

Digest: September 2019

The September digest. Crikey. 2019 has gone very, very fast and we are careering into the tenth month already. Autumn is very much upon us, indeed it was upon us and August was barely over.

The month began with a day trip to Edinburgh. I hadn’t been to Edinburgh for pleasure for a while. Plus it was Old Firm day in Glasgow and I like to escape my home city when the Gruesome Twosome are in action. I walked down through the Meadows, Bruntsfield Links and then Morningside to the Hermitage of Braid, one of my favourite places. There seemed to be some sort of community event on nearer the Braid Road end so I plonked myself on a bench by Hermitage House and read for a bit. Then I wandered by some rocks and back into town through Marchmont. These will feature in Loose Ends in a few weeks time. I had a turn around the National Museum of Scotland, taking in the Body Beautiful exhibition, before going back to Glasgow.

Sunday 8th September saw me in Paisley for the day. I did a Loose Ends walk there too.

On Tuesday 10th September, I went to the cinema to see Blinded by the Light, a film based on the true story of journalist Sarfraz Manzoor who grew up in Luton in the late 1980s as a massive Bruce Springsteen fan. It was an autistic-friendly screening and it was good. I felt in the right place.

The following night Hibs were in the Champions League. It was the women’s team but I couldn’t resist Hibs in the Champions League so I went to my first women’s game and it was friendly and good, even though Hibs got beat by Slavia Praha.

That weekend I wasn’t feeling well so my next trip anywhere that wasn’t for work was on Friday 20th September and I went into the West End on a gloriously sunny day to wander and sit in the Botanics for a bit. I went zine shopping back in the town and walked along the side of the Clyde for the train home.

On Sunday 22nd September Hibs played Hearts. I was there. Hibs got beat.

Wednesday 25th September saw Hibs play Kilmarnock at Rugby Park. It went to penalties probably due to only two shots on target between the two sides over ninety minutes. I managed to navigate the short distance between the station and Rugby Park without recourse to Google Maps, doing the walk without thinking, perhaps suggesting I’ve been there too often in recent years.

The September weekend came and I first headed to Edinburgh to see Hibs draw with Celtic. I have a deep, deep loathing for the lesser greens and this game did little to improve that. After that, I hit the highway for a camping trip up to Lochaber, staying near Arisaig right by the sea. A whole lot of adventures ensued, including star gazing, ferries, viaducts, canals and trying to find food in Mallaig. Some of this will feature in posts over the coming weeks, including the Saturday Saunter this week and a post on Sunday.

So, that’s our September digest. October sees the start of a new OU module, about twelve days off for some more adventures and the usual busy time with work and life. The blog will generally have two posts a week, Wednesday Loose Ends and Saturday Saunter, but the next few weeks will see Sunday posts about my trip up to Lochaber. It’s all part of trying to find the right balance.

Thanks as ever to all readers, commenters and followers. Have a great October.

Posts this month –

Digest: August 2019

Clean inbox time

Saturday Saunter: Podcasts, fashion and women’s football

Intercity: Aberdeen II (Esplanade)

Book memories

Saturday Saunter: The Joyful Kilmarnock Blues

Loose Ends: Queen’s Park, again

Castles in the community

Saturday Saunter: Eight things you might not know about me

Loose Ends: Caledonia Road Church

Lanes of Glasgow

Saturday Saunter: Books, quines and bookshops