Why history?

A few years ago, I was studying in the lower reaches of the Central Library in Edinburgh. The topic at hand was slavery as part of the Open University degree which is still in progress. I had printed off some articles and I had my course books in front of me. The chapter delved into statistics and in my frustration in understanding the charts and tables, I was close to chucking all of the papers out the window. What a confetti it would have made on the street below.

I was reminded of this recently when listening to an otherwise fascinating lecture about emigration. The speaker was great, interesting, engaging…until the tables came out. I am a fairly intelligent person and I have a half-decent grasp of maths. With statistics, I’m lost and it’s why I prefer words or qualitative evidence generally. I can do mental maths and my job requires a fair bit of adding up in my head but I’m glad I don’t tend to have a lot of numbers to deal with.

I have roughly two years left of an Open University degree in history. I started it a few years ago and after a couple of breaks, I’m now two thirds of the way through. After the lectures recently, I am more determined to get it done. It’s hard, though, keeping up with a course calendar while trying to work full-time and be a fairly civilised person but it’ll happen. The OU is exceedingly portable and a lot of materials come in PDF format so I can read them just about anywhere, on my iPad or off a computer screen.

The question I sometimes ponder is why history? Why have I devoted so much time to study the past? It all comes from my own past. I grew up in Dunbar, a place which oozes history of all types. Almost every building on the High Street is listed. Two battles which helped to shape the future of the kingdom happened in Dunbar. John Muir left from Dunbar to found national parks and shape consciousness about environmentalism. The inventor of the screw propeller came from Dunbar too. The Castle had its moments too. I just looked round and saw this as normal. My family and school took me places, told me stories. For a while I wanted to study politics but as time went on, I realised history was what I wanted to know more about. I don’t think it’s possible to understand the world today without having a grasp of what happened before.

Where I live now is incredibly historical too. My surroundings are quite modern – 1950s, 1960s architecture with a whole lot of motorway and railway nearby – but around me there are stories, good and bad. Glasgow has an immensely diverse past. Our city is a collection of villages forged together by people coming here for a better life and for work. We also have a darker past, with bigotry and slavery just two facets that should never be forgotten when considering all sides of what makes Glasgow what it is. I’ve spent six years here and I still don’t think I understand Glasgow. It might just take a lifetime.

Knowing our history is ever more important right now. Politically, particularly. I am a big believer that the best education can happen outside a classroom. It did with me. I was listening to a podcast last night about the Glasgow Women’s Library, a place which holds an immense amount of books and materials about all sorts of things. Every time I go there, I feel a little more positive about the world. Go to museums, libraries, castles. Walk down the street. History is beyond the classroom. It is walking round a graveyard or by an abandoned building. I’m studying again soon and I can’t wait. It’s about finding the right balance between the theoretical and the practical, putting one’s feet on the ground and feet up to read. That’s why I love history and it’s not going to change any time soon.


My favourite place in Glasgow

Glasgow has now been my home for six years and over that time, I like to think I’ve seen a lot of what it has to offer. I had seen a Tweet about someone else’s favourite place in Glasgow and it got me thinking. Where would I choose? Would it be Cathkin Park or up by the flagpole at Queen’s Park? George Square or walking up the platforms at Central or Queen Street? I started writing a post and I got bogged down. Then a few days later, I looked at my photos and realised I do have a single favourite place in the city. It’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. I go quite a few times a year and every time I focus on something different. Mainly it’s art. The French collection, the Scottish Colourists and the Glasgow Boys. Glasgow Girls too. I usually look in to the Scottish early history gallery and the cultural survival room with its Benin bronzes and displays about St. Kilda. Before I do that, I stop by my favourite painting, ‘Paps of Jura’ by William McTaggart (featured in Loose Ends recently), and sit and stare for a few minutes. I think and I mentally plan day trips. Then I go up and I wander, happy and calm for a while. My favourite place in Glasgow, without a shadow of a doubt, is Kelvingrove.

Streets of Glasgow: Buccleuch Street

Just occasionally, I like to play with this blog’s readership. Not out of malice, more fun, knowing there will be some folk out there thinking ‘WTF is he playing at?’ This street was partly chosen with that very thought in mind. Buccleuch Street doesn’t sound real. I know it is, I covered it. There are other Buccleuch Streets in Scotland, including in Edinburgh by the University, but it’s one of those words that doesn’t look right. Naturally enough it isn’t pronounced the way it’s spelled either. ‘Ba-clew’ is how it is said. There is a Duke of Buccleuch, who is a senior nobleman in Scotland, who owns quite a lot of land in Scotland. He is also Duke of Queensberry, apparently, which is less fun to say.

It was also chosen because this is the 70th Streets of Glasgow post and the point where the series goes on hiatus. I wanted a street that began with a ‘B’ to follow on from Addison Road, the 35th post. Plus this series has never ventured into Garnethill, an interesting district to the north of Glasgow city centre, partly explained by the ‘hill’ part of its name and also because I hadn’t got round to it.

The street began around the corner by some parked cars. I had checked Google Maps, the ultimate arbiter, and thus I started there. The motorway roared to my left and I was glad to turn back towards the city, pausing by the Tenement House – a National Trust property featuring a restored tenement flat – which stands rather incongruously next to a modern housing block. I went to the Tenement House quite a few years ago when I didn’t live in the city and I remember not relating to the place very well. It might have been generational – I might have been barely in my twenties, maybe less – and maybe because I wasn’t Glaswegian, not then anyway.

There were a few beautiful buildings on the street, one an old school with a tree growing atop the porch. I was high enough in Garnethill to get some decent views, across Park Circus and towards the University. I had noticed it on the way to start but almost forgot to actually take the photograph. On the way there were a few walkers, including some people who were clearly art students, all colourful hair and curated fashion, not at all a bad thing. The walk was more utilitarian towards the end, a bit more city centre but that was fine. Glasgow is grand and functional at the same time, a place of students, incomers and people of long standing. Camille Pissaro, the Impressionist artist, wrote ‘Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where others see nothing’. On this walk, as on sixty nine others in this series, I felt blessed. It was a nice end to this tranche of Streets of Glasgow, this first foray to Garnethill maybe a hint to future streets and explores. I certainly hope so.

Thanks for reading. This is indeed the seventieth Streets of Glasgow post here on Walking Talking. Other nearby streets featured in this series include West Graham Street, Great Western Road and Cowcaddens Road.

Streets of Glasgow takes a pause at this point. Some discursive posts will appear here every Wednesday instead.

This post is part of a series. Links to every part of the Streets of Glasgow series appear on the Streets of Glasgow page.

Saturday Saunter: Steps, love and good journalism

Good Saturday,

This Saturday Saunter is being started on Sunday night. Usually I write it during the week but I’m due to be away on Wednesday night to see the Hibs in their first pre-season friendly against Arbroath. Plus I had a whole load of ideas for this post and that’s quite unlike last week, which was quite improvised. Whether I get all of those ideas in, including talking about drag artistes, steps, Jackie Kay, wild places, love and good journalism, who can say?

Steps is the most prosaic so I’ll start there. A colleague of mine has a fitness watch which does pretty much everything except cooking breakfast. I had notions to get one to count my steps – I do a fair bit of walking in a week, including on the job – until I was informed that my phone probably does the job already. It does. I have an iPhone (other phones are of course available) and it has been counting my steps since I bought the thing a couple of years ago. Today, Sunday, I haven’t been out of the house so no data has been recorded. Yesterday involved walking the 3 miles to work then about a mile or so back (I got a lift part of the way) which was about 12,404 steps or 9km (roughly 5.5 miles). The day I walked around Cumbrae back in May was 33,378 steps or 21.2 km (13 miles). I looked out of polite interest rather than anything else. I walk because it’s an efficient way to get to work plus I actually quite enjoy it. It’s a good way to combine thinking and getting stuff done.

On Saturdays and Sundays I tend to start my morning by reaching for quite a few news sources. On a Sunday, I tend to glance towards some of the political comment articles in The Observer but mainly I read the two articles from the Scotland on Sunday by Dani Garavelli, who writes insightful articles every week about many things. Recently she has written about the social effects of lapdancing and a whole lot of politics though last Sunday’s two, about restorative justice, and the recent case of a mother being prosecuted in Alabama for the death of her unborn child after being shot in the stomach, were particularly insightful. Every week I find myself nodding along, whatever the subject. She also wrote an excellent piece recently in the Scottish football magazine Nutmeg about the lack of funding and attention for women’s football, particularly timely given the Scotland women’s team being in the World Cup recently.

Scottish Parliament (on right)

Talking of writers I love, the Scottish Makar, Jackie Kay, was in the news last weekend for delivering a poem at the Scottish Parliament. The Queen and her eldest laddie were at Holyrood to mark the 20th anniversary of the legislature and amongst the speeches and the forelock-tugging, Jackie Kay delivered a poem and it was typically braw. Read it if you can. ‘Under the Common Weal, we’re taking the long view’, ran the closing refrain. I certainly hope so. In other Jackie Kay news, she also did a good interview in The Guardian having a discussion with the outgoing US Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith, which is particularly good to read.

Jackie Kay’s poem made several mentions of LGBTQ people and I watched a particularly good show on All4 the other day, which is worth mentioning. It was called Drag SOS and involved a group of drag artistes going into a town, gathering up some locals and putting on a show. That’s interesting enough but it delved deeper, with the people involved lacking a lot of confidence for a lot of reasons. One was a father whose son was gay and also a drag queen. It was incredibly moving to see them bond as part of the process. It is part of a series, with the first in Dover before the Family Gorgeous, as the group are known, go around the country. It hit home with me, not least as a person who sometimes lacks confidence. I’ll be watching some more.

Talking about love, I was reading some more of Underland by Robert Macfarlane the other night and came across a passage which was particularly moving and relevant in my particular stage of life. It began by talking about trees moving closer together and sharing roots. ‘I think of good love as something that roots, not rots, over time, and of the hyphae that are weaving through the ground below me, reaching out through the soil in search of mergings. Theirs, too, seems to me then a version of life’s work’. Good love is the goal for many of us, even if finding it is harder sometimes than we want it to be.

I also wanted to share a couple of good posts from other blogs I’ve read recently. Our blog pal Wednesday’s Child has written a post about statues and another about Glasgow’s High Street, both worth a read, and for dark humour, go to Cheers, Govanhill for some slightly dark musings.

I’m continuing this post on Saturday morning. It is about twenty to eight and it’s sunny out my window. I’m listening to the Hibs Talk podcast. Today is six years to the day since I moved to Glasgow. I don’t regret it, not for the moment. It’s been a rollercoaster ride but it’s made me a stronger and better person as a result.

Before I go, I wanted to share a Twitter thread I saw the other day and haven’t really stopped thinking about it. It is very difficult to convey what it’s like to be autistic. The autistic experience is different for every single autistic person but this chimed with me and my own experience. Pete Wharmby wrote the thread so salutations to him. Two that I relate to: ‘Autism can be like…Missing every implicit cue anyone ever gave you, meaning you miss out on all sorts of things’ and ‘Having a dark as hell sense of humour whilst being told “autistic people don’t have a sense of humour” and laughing at them’. Very, very true.

Finally, today I am heading away to Dunfermline to watch Hibs. Steak bridies await. Also an Intercity walk to do. In order of priorities, though, it’s steak bridies, Hibs then blog. Sorry, blog. On that subject, tomorrow’s post will be Intercity in Paisley, Wednesday Streets of Glasgow and Thursday post as yet unwritten. Whatever you do this weekend, have a good one. Cheers for now.

Digest: June 2019

It was only on Sunday that I remembered I hadn’t written this digest yet. Usually I write it over the course of the month, rather than doing it in one big burst. Now, then…

The first photographs of the month are from Saturday 8th June, the day I attended an Open University history day in Edinburgh. Later in the year I will be going back to my degree and the day had a few lectures on emigration, the French Revolution and Islam, and talks about the current crop of OU modules. Afterwards I had a walk around the New Town in the rain, thinking and planning and not giving a toss.

On Friday 14th June, I went to see a friend at Prestongrange. I had a good wander around the site before and after.

Sunday 16th June I spent the day in the Borders. We met in Linlithgow due to engineering works (allowing me to do an Intercity post) and then we went to Dryburgh Abbey, Smailholm Tower (as written about here) and Bamburgh beach. A rich full day with history, views and waves, the last of which were particularly appreciated.

The following Tuesday I went into Paisley after work to do the Intercity walk there, which appears here on Sunday.

That Saturday saw me at a wedding reception in the east. It was great to catch up with old friends and acquaintances.

The following morning saw me have a walk along the prom at Portobello as far as Fisherrow Harbour. Then my friend and I took a bus down to North Berwick for a daunder in the sunshine.

On Friday, I went to New Lanark and the Falls of Clyde, neither of which I had been to before. I thought with the considerable heat that being by the river and waterfalls might help. Not really. The surroundings were gorgeous, though, more about walking than sampling any of the history. I think I will do New Lanark again on a winter’s day. A post about this adventure appears here tomorrow.

That’s the rundown of where I went in June. July is to be busier. I am in Arbroath tonight to see Hibs play their first preseason friendly and I will be travelling around the country for football over the next few weeks. It feels like no time has passed since last season ended against Aberdeen. Plus at the end of the month I have a week off, which will be very welcome indeed. At that point the blog will take a break from Saturday 27th July until Wednesday 7th August.

The digest usually covers where I’ve been over the month. It doesn’t delve into the finer details. This month has personally been busy with a wee bit of sadness, one or two happy days and a big personal step. I don’t know how that last one will end yet. What I’ve come to appreciate with ever more intensity is that life’s too short. I’m an humanist and I believe that we have but one life. It is up to us to make the best of it. The best words I can find are from my favourite book, The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd. ‘Love pursued with fervour is one of the roads to knowledge’. It’s true.

Our Scots word of the month is ‘hansel’. It was used in Jackie Kay’s poem at the 20th anniversary of the Scottish Parliament on Saturday. I’ll be mentioning it in the Saturday Saunter this coming Saturday. Hansel, or handsel as the Dictionary of the Scots Language has it, is a good Scots word meaning to inaugurate, to begin. It could also mean a gift to mark such an occasion.

Finally, in popular culture I have enjoyed this month, I haven’t read so much this month but what I can do is talk about a couple of podcasts I’ve enjoyed. David Tennant’s discussions with various folk he knows, including Michael Sheen, Samantha Bee, Tina Fey, Jon Hamm and Jodie Whittaker, are particularly good and got me through a fairly sleepless night recently. I like conversations between two people and a new podcast came my way recently called These Are The Days, presented by Ronny Costello. The first episode, featuring a discussion with Paul McNicoll, was particularly insightful about raising a child with a disability as well as just being a right good blether about growing up in Scotland and Dundee in particular.

Thanks as ever to all readers, commenters and followers. There have been some nice conversations recently so thanks for that. Over the next few weeks here will be some more Intercity adventures and a few more havers about places I’ve been recently. Tomorrow’s post was written on location at New Lanark so have a read at that. Have a very nice July.

Posts published this month –

Digest: May 2019

Loose Ends: Bearsden Bathhouse

Streets of Glasgow: West Graham Street

Glasgow amidst the art

Saturday Saunter: Studying, writing and reading

Loose Ends: Queen’s Park

Streets of Glasgow: Great Western Road

Mackintosh and Kingsley

Saturday Saunter: Poetry, statues and lighthouses

End of the line: Milngavie

Streets of Glasgow: Clarence Drive

Walking rules

Saturday Saunter: Fruit, podcasts and walking

Intercity: Linlithgow

Streets of Glasgow: Prince Albert Road

Smailholm Tower

Saturday Saunter: Sunshine out my window

Intercity: Glasgow II

Intercity: Glasgow II

Probably the latest walk I’ve ever done for this blog, almost 10pm on a June Sunday night as I killed time before my train home. I had to think of a street I could cover for Intercity that I hadn’t written about before. St. Vincent Place was the choice, near the stations and at the heart of the city centre. There were still a few folk going about and I heard a homeless person talking and the squeak of a rubber duck. A cyclist led an advert for a bathroom showroom on a trailer. Why would anyone out in Glasgow at 10pm on a Sunday night be looking for a new bathroom? There was an European feel with trees, restaurants and offices, the buildings twinkling and the eateries and pubs full even late on. The homeless person was giving directions to passers-by.

Looking up was an advantage, the railings, finials and details worth the lingering. The walk was just about done when I saw an advert featuring a woman’s face with the legend ‘My Eyes Don’t Hold Me Back’. I thought it was about eye contact, something I struggle with, but on closer inspection it was advertising eye drops, hay fever an even worse affliction this time of year. With that thought, stood by a closed public toilet, the walk was done, a mere 2-3 minutes after it began by George Square, a few hundred feet away. It was an interesting walk and one that yielded far more on a closer look.

Thanks for reading. Another Intercity walk follows next week. George Square, St. Vincent Street, Buchanan Street and Queen Street have all featured in the Streets of Glasgow series here so have a read at those. Links to other posts in the Intercity series can be found at the Intercity page, including the first Glasgow post, about the Broomielaw.

Streets of Glasgow: Prince Albert Road

Another unplanned Streets of Glasgow walk, chosen because of its proximity to Clarence Drive and its interesting name, one part a link to Victoria Road covered in this series and the other because I’m juvenile. I had neither seen or heard of the street before and as I walked I passed modern flats. A guy was shouting to his pal about just being back from spending the day in the sunshine in Helensburgh. Soon I was passing some very posh houses, most detached, many behind walls and gates. A few joggers passed. The cars that lined the street weren’t old either, most sleek, silver and modern. I had found a nice wee enclave, very leafy as so much of the West End is. Soon I reached a junction and this brief interlude ended, the city resuming with more traffic and more noise.

Thanks for reading. This is the sixty ninth Streets of Glasgow walk here on Walking Talking. Other nearby streets featured here include Clarence Drive and Byres Road.

This post is part of a series. Links to every part of the Streets of Glasgow series appear on the Streets of Glasgow page.

Streets of Glasgow: Clarence Drive

After Great Western Road, you would have thought that I would have had enough Streets of Glasgow for one day. It was a warm Friday evening. You would of course be wrong. I decided to get off the train at Hyndland and cover another street I had long been meaning to cover for this series. Clarence Drive leads from Crow Road to Hyndland Road. It is residential with a few shops. As I joined it, there were flats on the corner with a golden cockerel finial on top. The walk sloped down past flats on either side, the railway crossing the road ahead. The bridge was a fine example of a ghost sign, advertising a car company.

There was a hill leading up from there. What I had recently discovered was that a few streets in the area bore the name Lauderdale. In my home town, Dunbar, there is Lauderdale House and Lauderdale Park, after the Earl of Lauderdale who owned land in the burgh. The Duchy of Clarence used to be a minor Royal title, I knew, though Clarence meant reporting road issues, at least on road signs in the east of Scotland. There were nice shops further up, beyond the school which bore the legend of Govan Parish School Board, reminding me that until the late 19th century Govan stretched across the river and it and Partick were independent of Glasgow. The houses were tenement-style, red sandstone and they were high here. As I reached the end of the walk, at the top of the hill, I got a photo and looked at the smart cupola across the road. I decided on the next walk and proceeded away.

Thanks for reading. This is the sixty eighth Streets of Glasgow walk here on Walking Talking. The only nearby street featured here is Prince Albert Road, which appears here next week.

This post is part of a series. Links to every part of the Streets of Glasgow series appear on the Streets of Glasgow page.

End of the line: Milngavie

Scotland is the best in many respects, not least in place names that are pronounced much, much differently than how they are spelled. Off the top of my head, there are Cockburnspath (Co’burnspath or Co’path), Athelstaneford (Alshenford), Strathaven (Straven) and the daddy of them all, Milngavie (Milgui). Milngavie is a small town a wee way north of Glasgow. It is known for being the southern end of the West Highland Way, which stretches 96 miles all the way to Fort William (pronounced Fort Wilyum, incidentally), and also for being quite well-to-do. It is the kind of place that has a Waitrose, for example, the mark of somewhere with a lot of Range Rovers. I had never been there before and I decided one very warm April Bank Holiday to change that.

‘This is Glasgow Queen Street Low Level. This train is for Milngavie…’ went the train. Milngavie is quite well served by trains and I could get there from either Glasgow Central or Queen Street. Indeed the train I got from Queen Street had come from Edinburgh. I was going to wait for the Central train but Glasgow was mobbed and I wanted out – summer had arrived with a vengeance. As I write this, it’s cool and wet outside but this day wasn’t. I sat by the window and watched the city pass by, most of the journey via Charing Cross, Partick and Hyndland very familiar, a shadow on the grey Riverside Museum roof, the river shimmering with the unfamiliar sunlight. From Westerton it was all new, houses on either side, some very red people sunbathing in their gardens. These quickly gave way to dearer brick and stone houses. ‘They’ll tell I’m working class’ came the unbidden thought. No wonder I ended up humming ‘The Red Flag’ on regular intervals on my walk.

Milngavie station, with its low hanging roof, was quite busy with young folk heading for the beach or wherever. I felt quite old walking through them, not quite old enough to be their faither yet, but certainly an older brother. The underpass to the town centre was rather fine with a series of murals about the area’s history and the West Highland Way. To my surprise, given Milngavie’s reputation, the town centre was fairly run down and wonderfully the West Highland Way, that well-kent footpath, began right by Greggs. I desisted from buying a steak bake this particular day and started off for Mugdock.

I walked up past some quite posh houses and soon reached the banks of Mugdock Reservoir. I had never been there before and it was rather fine on that gorgeous sunny day, the water calm, the vista pretty perfect. Lots of people were out walking, running and enjoying the sunshine. I knew only that this was where my water comes from. Loch Katrine in the Trossachs is a major source of Glasgow’s water and it gets piped through 26 miles of tunnels and aqueducts to end up at Mugdock and Craigmaddie Reservoirs. This was one of those wonderful Victorian innovations designed to solve a major public health crisis in the city and the design of the gauge basins were enough to remind of a grander civic age. As I walked, I forgot I was so close to Glasgow – indeed I could see some of its high buildings – and I sat by the reservoir, ate my sandwiches and read a book. It was brilliant.

After a fashion, covered in a couple of Loose Ends posts recently, I walked back down into Milngavie, only heading the short distance to Bearsden for a Roman diversion. I was glad finally to have reached Milngavie, the source of much amusement over the years, and to be able to put a place to a name. I think I’ll go back on a colder day, the kind of winter day where the sun is intense but bitingly baltic, to see the view to its best effect. It was pretty fine that day, to be fair, another end of a line and the beginning of another.

Thanks for reading. The Loose Ends posts featuring Milngavie and surrounding districts are John Frederic Bateman monument, Craigmaddie Gauge Basin and Bearsden Bathhouse.

Mackintosh and Kingsley


This particular day I felt like sharing some photographs of some of the very fine buildings designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Just because I can, I’ve also included a picture of the new CRM statue in Anderston and also another Glaswegian design classic created by David Shrigley. Enjoy.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh statue in Anderston, designed by Andy Scott
The Hill House, Helensburgh, which is currently under a box for conservation reasons. I like the railings.
The Hill House, Helensburgh, which is currently under a big box for conservation reasons. This picture was taken about 45 minutes after the one above.
Scotland Street School Museum
The House for an Art Lover, based on a Mackintosh design
Kingsley, the Partick Thistle mascot, designed by David Shrigley. This toy sits by my bed as I write this. x