Saturday Saunter: Lighthouses and other stray thoughts

Good Saturday to you,

I am starting this fairly late in the week for me, on Wednesday scribbling into my notebook. It is actually sunny right now though earlier there was sleet and all sorts. A calm day would be excellent. This appears on Saturday when up until now I have nothing planned. Hibs played Inverness Caledonian Thistle on Friday night (šŸ’š) so no football. I am away on Sunday so a duvet day might be a wise move.

There are times when I write this post when I have all sorts of ideas, other times not so many. This is one of the barren times but I’m sure I’ll get there. Since the news is its usual cheeriness, there’s plenty of scope but too much gets me enraged and that’s not what I need. Nor particularly good to read. As part of good self-care, the other day I went on a radical cleanse of my Twitter feed, taking out whatever would cause me rage or tension. It’s basically now Hibs, books, history and the odd transport company. The news is quite enough right now.

I recently read a good book called Seashaken Houses by Tom Nancollas, which featured the stories of various rock lighthouses, including the mighty Bell Rock. I’m going to see Tom Nancollas talk at Aye Write in March which should be excellent, as should the dinner I’ll be having at one of the excellent curry houses in the area afterwards. What should be interesting is his tales of camping in a disused lighthouse in February and his trip out to Fastnet as part of a maintenance crew. The Mitchell Library is nowhere near the sea so might be a strange place to go hear a talk about lighthouses but for a seaside person who now lives in the city, I’m sure I can use my imagination.

Barns Ness lighthouse: a white lighthouse tower against a blue sky with three windows up its left side, buildings below.

What is very real is a lighthouse being demolished. Robert Macfarlane Tweeted the other day about the Orford Ness lighthouse in Suffolk which will soon be demolished because of very drastic coastal erosion. A lighthouse always seems such a constant, permanent thing that one being demolished is a bit of a shock. I grew up near the Barns Ness lighthouse, which was decommissioned in 2005, and it still stands high on the landscape despite essentially being obsolete. I wonder what will happen with the remains of Orford Ness.

Yesterday’s travelling book was Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall, an excellent book about geopolitics that could maybe do with an update due to the UK’s exit from the European Union. (We don’t use the ‘B’ word here. Nor ampersands.) A lot of conflicts happen or are even avoided because of geography. I got into the China chapter the other day. One of those books that brings new thoughts and dimensions to them too.

Anyway, that’s the Saturday Saunter for this leap day, Saturday 29th February 2020. Thanks for reading. A London post may well appear tomorrow. The March digest will appear on Wednesday. Until then, have an excellent weekend. Peace.

Loose Ends: Creel Loaders statue

The last Loose Ends adventure took me to the site of the old Glasgow maternity hospital, Rottenrow. I was going to Dunbar the next day and already decided that the next connections would be there. The Creel Loaders statue, sculpted by Gardner Molloy, sits on Victoria Street in Dunbar, across from a fabrication yard. Victoria Street used to be called Cat’s Row, the houses demolished and replaced by more modern houses designed by Sir Basil Spence. Rottenrow to Cat’s Row. The statue has been there a couple of years and I’m rather fond of it. It marks the proud fishing history of Dunbar, the creels of herring, shellfish and whatever else regularly humphed many miles in the days before motorised transport, even as far as Lauder on the other side of the Lammermuirs. Dunbar has two harbours and there are markers on the ground pointing to both, Victoria to the left, Cromwell the right. Before the sculpture was there, a telephone box stood and I remember using it when I was a kid, having grown up a couple of streets away.

The next connection neatly tied up with the real reason I came to Dunbar, for I was going on a bear hunt, going to catch a big one. What a beautiful day! I wasn’t scared!

Thank you for reading. Another Loose Ends post follows in two weeks time. Loose Ends is a wider series and other posts from the series can be found on the Loose Ends page. A previous post about the Creel Loaders can be found here.

Geeking out on the Harry Potter tour

I grew up with Harry Potter, the books then the films. I read the first three then waited for the next as they came along. I wasn’t one of those kids who would queue at the bookshop at midnight but I would read them very soon after being published, lapping up every drop from the books. The films were decent even if bits really grated, the bits of the books which were elided or film additions that didn’t fit quite right. The main objective of my recent London trip was to go on the Harry Potter Studio Tour at Leavesden. A train to Watford then a shuttle bus to the studios. A timed slot and off you go. We spent three hours and it was a bit of an overload. All lights, noise, people and stimulation. It was all about overload management and to their credit, WB had thought of that with a quiet space available. I didn’t end up using it thanks to wine gums, sitting in a quiet corner and a well-timed toilet visit a little later.

Entrance: a statue of a knight chess piece outside a modern building with the words ‘Warner Bros Studio Tour London: The Making of Harry Potter’ on it
Dumbledore’s office: a room with lots of church-like arches with paintings above and a costume and a desk in the centre
Gringotts: looking up in a lavish, pillar-lined room with two chandeliers hanging
Hogwarts Express: a red and black steam train sat in a railway station
Advert: a mocked-up advertisement featuring a woman with her hand on her chin. To the right is a bottle of perfume and the legend: ‘Tonight Make A Little Magic With Your Man’

I love details and what struck me most about the tour was that nothing was missed from the movies. The sets were far more detailed than can be possibly conveyed in two dimensions, the crests of the Hogwarts houses on the cabinets in Dumbledore’s office, the elaborate designs of Gringotts and even platform 9 3/4 with a picture of the actual view from the end of King’s Cross station for added accuracy. Hagrid’s motorbike (really Sirius Black’s motorbike but we won’t quibble) and its sidecar reminded me powerfully of Wallace and Gromit and A Close Shave. One of the best days I’ve had was at Blackpool Pleasure Beach which has a Wallace and Gromit ride with a far better-priced gift shop than at Leavesden. One of my favourite details, if I remember rightly from Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, was an advert for perfume placed in the Muggle railway station where Harry Potter meets Dumbledore. Apparently it was quite an adjustment for the set designers to design something for the Muggle world after all that magic.

Harry Potter is very popular over a decade since the last film came out. The Fantastic Beasts films also occupy that universe plus the books and films keep getting rediscovered. Plus the play. The studio tour was very thorough and impressive and I had a great time despite the overload. It felt like being with kindred spirits, a place with people with shared interests and knowledge. I could just geek out without apology or abandon and that’s never a bad thing.

Saturday Saunter: Underground voices and twisting paths

Good Saturday to you,

I am writing this on Sunday morning in the midst of Storm Dennis. It is bright and a wee bit windy out my window this morning and hopefully it won’t be too bad for the trip later today to Kilmarnock to watch the Hibs. This comes out on Saturday morning when I will be on the way to Edinburgh to watch Hibs play Livingston. There hasn’t been a Saturday 3pm kickoff for a couple of weeks so it will be good to have a more gentle pace for my travels to Edinburgh and to have a wander once I’m there. By the time this is posted, another assignment will be written hence I am writing this on Sunday to clear the runway for 1,000 words of scintillating prose about a primary source.

Last week I was away to London and the next few weeks will see quite a few blog posts about that. I want to write this morning about the London Underground. To be fair I often want to write about the London Underground. It is an immense system with lots of lines, stations and underground passageways that feel like being in a video game. I spent a fair bit of time on it, particularly navigating Bank, which must have contributed to about 10,000 steps over two days as well as my very sore feet. Leaving aside Bank, two Underground things are in my mind. The first is Arsenal. We were up there to see the old Highbury and compare it to the Emirates. Arsenal had pot plants and a small bookcase which people could pick and choose from. No substitute for a public library, obviously. It also had older Tube maps from all the way back in May 2019 when Reading and the western reaches of what will eventually be called the Elizabeth line weren’t on the map. For the uninitiated, Tube maps feature art on the cover and the May 2019 map featured some words from Laure Prouvost:

‘In Grand Ma’s Dream This Map Would Always Be With You And Would Resist The Passing Of Time’

I like that. In the age of Google Maps, a paper map should always be with you just in case.

Platform 3 at Embankment: an underground train platform with the words ‘Mind The Gap’ on the ground and advertising and a station sign on the wall above.

Second Underground thing is from Embankment. There was a viral Twitter thread just before Christmas (as talked about in this Guardian article) which talked about why platform 3 on the Northern line at Embankment features a different, sonorous voice reading the words ‘Mind The Gap’. It was actor Oswald Laurence. Transport for London changed the voice a few years ago and Oswald Laurence’s widow Margaret McCollum remarked on it. She used to make a point of going to Embankment every so often just to hear his voice. In a rather lovely bit of work, TfL not only got Margaret McCollum a recording, they restored his voice to platform 3 at Embankment. I made a special trip myself while I was in London to hear the voice of Oswald Laurence, a reminder of the power of love and how it’s the little things that matter.

Last Saturday, I was out with my dad around central Scotland, particularly in Fife and Edinburgh. We went to my favourite art gallery, Kirkcaldy, which had an excellent exhibition of landscape photographs on the go. For those who will ask me rather than going on Google, it is on until 1st March. There were some very fine photographs including rusting, decaying boats, as well as mountains, waves and bridges. One of our favourite pictures was of the twisting pathway at St Monans Harbour in the East Neuk of Fife (as shown below) and we ended up along there around an hour later, stood atop a ladder and trying not to be blown away. I managed a couple of pictures on my phone. I had never seen East Lothian so close before, the 11 miles across the Forth feeling much less.

Anyway, that’s the Saturday Saunter for today, Saturday 22nd February 2020. Thanks for reading. If I’ve managed to write another London post, it will appear here tomorrow. Loose Ends will be back on Wednesday with a sculpture. Have a good week. Peace.

Loose Ends: Rottenrow


The last instalment of theĀ Loose EndsĀ cavalcade took me by the Forth to a statue of Fisherrow fishermen. Connected only through the word ‘row’ is Rottenrow in Glasgow, the site of the old maternity hospital where thousands of Glaswegian weans were born up until 2001. Now only some lintels remain, a park in its place in the middle of Strathclyde University’s campus. I hadn’t really explored it before. My only previous visit took in the lintels as part of a larger hunt for street art. I walked up the epic hill from Ingram Street, not entirely out of breath, and was struck by the colossal sign saying how wonderful Strathclyde University is stuck on the back of the old hospital frontage. Indeed. A Christmas tree sat facing the George Street end, bedecked in blue and white lights. I stood on a balcony and looked down into the park. A sculpture of a nappy pin stood below, a reminder of how this place was once used. A plaque talked of the place’s history but noted that it also stood as a reminder of those ‘whose lives had no sooner begun than they ended’. Life is fragile and deeply precious and it is places like Rottenrow where this is brought into ever sharper focus.

I always liked that Glasgow’s maternity hospital was called Rottenrow, a name with a bit of something behind it, far more than the prosaically named Eastern General Hospital where I myself was born or the two hospitals named after royalty where Glaswegian weans come into the world now. Rottenrow sounds like something out of a Dickens novel, with grim, urban connotations. It sits at the southern end of Townhead, a place radically different from how it once was. Now Rottenrow is part of a 1960s-type university campus, surrounded by buildings designed by folk with utopian aims. I’m only glad they didn’t forget the past this time.

The next connection was already planned at this point. Usually near the end of aĀ Loose EndsĀ round I have to start planning it more carefully and so it proves this time. The next one is a wee bit of a distance but no less interesting.

Thanks for reading. AnotherĀ Loose EndsĀ adventure will follow next week. TheĀ Loose EndsĀ page features all of the various parts of the series so far.

London Transport Museum

London and I don’t have the easiest of relationships. It’s loud, crowded and congested while also diverse, interesting and not a little bit wonderful. As a proud Scot, though, it ain’t my capital and despite being far from convinced about independence, I can get very nationalistic around the Palace of Westminster. I am also autistic and navigating around needs formidable fortitude. By the time I came home this time, after three days in the Smoke, I was majorly out of spoons. It was quite a ride, though, as I will write about here in the next few weeks, beginning with the sheer joy of the London Transport Museum.

London Transport Museum: looking down into a museum gallery with a tram and a bus as well as a model train running in the foreground.
Light up sign with Next Train at the top

The London Transport Museum sits by Covent Garden and before our trip I had never been. London has so many world-beating museums that there is absolutely no hope of me seeing them all in a day or even three days. Lured with the promise of a decent gift shop, plus a great love for all things transport, to Covent Garden we went. The London Transport Museum is on three levels, combining traditional exhibitions and more hands-on stuff, trains, buses and all sorts. As well as a green-man crossing, which I made sure I waited at despite all the traffic being static museum objects. It was very well done, with a wee bit of humour and pitched at a broad audience. As a design nerd, I loved the displays about posters on the Underground, the Tube map and the mighty Johnston typeface. The museum nerd came out in full flow during the excellent Hidden London exhibition all about disused Underground stations. It had been designed to resemble a disused station complete with bare grey walls, captions taped up with gaffer tape and wires going through walls. Hidden London is a very early contender for exhibition of the year. The contents were one thing but the design was something else.

Entrance to the Hidden London exhibition, with a barrier, newspaper hoarding about ‘Aldwych Station’s Last Day’ and assorted barriers and signage.
Exhibition gallery with wires on the left and two photographs of London Underground stations on the wall, the captions taped up with grey, gaffer tape

Transport museums are difficult to get right. They bring in enthusiasts and people who don’t know one end of a bus from another. The London Transport Museum is immense. It has a hefty admission fee but there are ways to cut that, not least with a 2 for 1 offer with a rail ticket. It does an excellent job in playing to a broad audience as much as the different parts of me which like design, museums, trains and climbing on buses like a bairn. We stepped into the museum barely an hour after our train arrived at King’s Cross so there’s plenty more to read from the sojourn down south.


Saturday Saunter: Gridiron and Kilmarnock

Good Saturday to you,

This is a pre-record post, written before the last one came out. This week I have been in London so rather than rushing a post out while absolutely knackered, I am actually writing this a couple of weeks ago, funnily enough quite tired at the end of a working day. I will be posting this on a Saturday when I will be on a day trip with my dad somewhere in central Scotland. Tomorrow I am off to Kilmarnock to watch Hibs, the only football away trip to have its own song, the wonderful ‘Joyful Kilmarnock Blues’ by the Proclaimers, the greatest band in the world singing about a football team that despite its faults is the finest in the land today.

Sign from Covent Garden Underground station: a sign saying ‘To The Trains’ in capital letters with an arrow below pointing right.

I know positively hee-haw about most sport. I watch Hibs. Due to family, I know a bit about motorbike racing. I can tell you that Valentino Rossi is leaving Yamaha at the end of the 2020 season. He is almost double the age of some of the other riders in MotoGP. Amazing. Anyway, I do try occasionally to watch other sports and I did try to watch shinty once as well as the Super Bowl a few years ago. I didn’t last long. Every few moments, the action cut to the studio. I slept through this year’s Super Bowl and didn’t even know it was happening. I gather that Shakira and Jennifer Lopez did the half-time show and were amazing. They were also criticised for what they wore, despite Adam Levine singing sans shirt in the same show in 2019. Plenty of hypocrisy all round. In brighter news, the 69ers from San Francisco made history, not by getting beat but by having not only the first female coach but the first LGBT coach in Super Bowl history, Katie Sowers. For such a masculine sport, that’s amazing. Her comment following the match encouraged her followers to be kind, not to slag off the players for getting beat. We could do worse than heed that in wider life.

My journey to Kilmarnock tomorrow afternoon will be by train. It will take about half an hour and probably on a busy train inadequate for the number of people wanting to go to Ayrshire to see Hibernian play. At some point before I go, if not on the journey itself because I will have company, I will need to listen to ‘The Joyful Kilmarnock Blues’ by the Proclaimers, a song from the first album, This Is The Story. It’s about someone hitching 60 miles to Kilmarnock for the football and the walk back. It’s like a meditation on life and I firmly encourage people to listen to it. My favourite line is ‘The best view of all is where the land meets the sky’. The moor between Glasgow and Ayrshire makes me think of that too, being able to look up at a broad sky, even from the M77. Hopefully it will be a game I want to allay.

Anyway, that’s the Saturday Saunter for today, Saturday 15th February 2020. Thanks for reading. Loose Ends returns on Wednesday and some London thoughts will appear soon. Anyway,  cheers the now, folks.


Love, again

So, it’s Valentine’s Day again. Yep. Another of those days forced down our throats by marketing companies and card shops. There’s a social obligation which frankly grates, whether we have a special someone in our lives or not. It has become traditional here on the Walking Talking blog to publish a post on this particular day to celebrate travelling so let’s not break the tradition in 2020.

My favourite book is The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd. I re-read it every so often and revel in Nan Shepherd’s prose, the sheer vivid life in every word. I do that despite never having been to the Cairngorms nor being particularly keen to actually go up a mountain. The preface, written many years after the text, ends with these words:

‘Love pursued with fervour is one of the roads to knowledge’.

I really like that. She doesn’t just mean romantic love. Love for a place. It can be a mountain or a beach or a castle or anywhere. Or for an act, a passion, a career. I personally think that this fourteenth day of February should celebrate all loves. For family, friends, pets, football teams, hulking mountains, telly programmes, whatever you want. Pizza, even, or the finest chocolate bars. Love is complicated.

If I could be anywhere else than here, writing these words on a cold night, I would be in a wood somewhere. I was in Lochend Woods near Dunbar a couple of weeks ago and felt a deep affection for the place. A love, maybe, for the place and maybe for the wandering dreamer who roamed those woods once. I discovered my love for writing in those woods. Like Clare in the fields, I gathered poems there and just had to write them down.

There is no shame in loathing this night, for longing, for hoping or just ignoring it entirely. There is also nothing wrong with celebrating the one, or ones, you’re with, whoever they may be. ‘Love pursued with fervour is one of the roads to knowledge’. Yep. I would go with that.

Loose Ends: Fisherrow Fishermen

Our last Loose Ends adventure was a mural down a back street in Glasgow city centre. This one couldn’t be more different but is linked because of the simple act of looking. Looking the right way is particularly useful in cities but also by the sea, in this case at Fisherrow Harbour in East Lothian. Two statues of fishermen sit by the harbour, sculpted a few years ago by Gardner Molloy. As the name suggests, fishing was key to Fisherrow’s fortunes, indeed to much of the east coast, and fishing gives names to many places in the area, including the Fishwives Causeway in Portobello. The Fishwives were crucial in Fisherrow, gutting and distributing fish, often across great distances. The John Gray Centre’s website features an interesting article about them so have a read at that. The statues of fishermen mark a part of history now but a part of local history that won’t soon be forgotten. Wonderfully these act also as traffic bollards, blocking vehicles from the footpath that forms part of the John Muir Way which leads eventually to Dunbar.

Quite a few connections are possible from here. Gardner Molloy comes from Cockenzie, just up the coast. He also sculpted ‘The Creel Loaders’ (my blog post about that one can be found here), which is on Victoria Street in Dunbar, not far from Lamer Island featured in this series before. Dunbar would lead to the big new bear sculpture that sits by the A1. There is the Scottish Fisheries Museum over in Anstruther, of course, though I have the feeling I might be staying on this side of the Forth for the next instalment…

Thanks for reading. This is part of the Loose Ends series on Walking Talking. Other instalments of the Loose Ends series can be found on the Loose Ends page.

Saturday Saunter: iPads and buses

Good Saturday to you,

I’m working this Saturday hence it’s appearing early. This is being started on Monday night and in the background I have YouTube clips of Saturday Night Live, currently talking about the coronavirus. There’s been a biting wind today with some moments of wind, rain and hailstones just to keep things interesting.

On the walk home tonight I was thinking of some Glasgow adventures I would like to go on soon. The 3 bus goes from Drumchapel in the north west through Scotstoun, Partick, the city centre, Shawlands, Pollokshaws, Pollok, Crookston and Cardonald, ending up at Govan Bus Station, around two hours later. It passes close to my house and for years I’ve had such an urge to go the entire route, just to see where it went and what happened. I’ve decided to link it to the other longest bus route in the city, the 90, which goes from Partick to Braehead via Springburn, Parkhead and Shawlands, and may even do it in one day if my backside can take it. If it goes well I will write it up here, the scenery, people, noises and whatever else. If I can’t sit still long enough, there might be a post complaining of severe pain in delicate parts of my body and you don’t need to read that, believe me.

I read an article the other day noting the 10th anniversary of the iPad. I write these posts on a Chromebook though I do edit and read other people’s posts on my iPad, a device which is glued to my hand a lot of the time and sits to my left as I write this. I find it easier to write on a computer with a keyboard, which comes from working on desktop computers and it is ingrained in me. My iPad has a lot of my music on it, Netflix, books, OU textbooks and podcasts. Just now it’s playing a podcast of American talk show hosts Conan O’Brien and John Oliver talking to each other. I realised a few years ago that a tablet is pretty much ideal for me. One device that does nearly everything.

This weekend I am working today and away on a day trip to North Berwick tomorrow. Next week I am away to London for a few days, which should be excellent. I have two scheduled free afternoons as part of the trip but as yet I don’t have anything planned for them. At the moment I am thinking about Greenwich for one and the British Museum for the other. Or maybe the V and A. I might just spend the time between one or two of the fine museums down Kensington way. At some point I think I might sit and do some OU work looking over the Thames, realising just how lucky I am. Not for being a 30-year-old still being a student but for doing that sitting in an amazing big city as part of a cool experience.

That is our Saturday Saunter for today, Saturday 8th February 2020. We will have Loose Ends again on Wednesday, which will be posted as I am somewhere in the Smoke. There will also be the annual anti-Valentine’s Day post on Friday. Next Saturday’s Saturday Saunter will be a pre-record, probably written tonight before my brain completely gives up. Before I forget, the blog now has 300 followers. That’s nice. Thanks for that. Thanks for reading, commenting and of course following. Have a great week. Cheers.