When I go to the football, I tend to travel light, usually preferring to carry a book or a notebook along with my iPod. My normal mode is to pick a book off my considerable to-read pile, though I don’t always get it read. I’ve been trying to finish a book review for months but I have carried the book to at least three games and it’s still not done. Sometimes, though, I have managed to read a book in its entirety on the journey to and from Edinburgh or wherever the game is. It helps that I am a quick reader, even if I don’t read enough.
I suspect I am not the only one. I spend too much time looking at my phone. Twitter musings and Facebook updates aren’t conducive to good concentration, sadly. Just being able to read and not bother to scroll every few minutes would improve my life considerably. I probably still read more than most – I give out books for a living, after all – but most of my reading happens on a screen rather than in print. I don’t think I read the same on a tablet. I flick between pages faster and my eyes dance over the screen rather than lingering on each printed word. The other day I re-read the latest Quintin Jardine novel because the first time I didn’t get a whole lot out of the experience. It’s still reading and still a better way to spend my time than spear fishing or watching Hearts or whatever but it is still a lesser pleasure than actually sitting somewhere nice reading a book.
Recently I took a book with me and read it in full well before I headed home. I read most of it on the train – it was called #girlboss by Sophia Amoruso, incidentally – and was going to go up to Calton Hill to finish it until I remembered that I was in Edinburgh and sitting on a hill to read wasn’t happening with the wind. I still went up to Calton Hill, though, but sat for half an hour in Leith Links instead to finish reading it. I think the best reading moments happen when outside and I don’t do it often enough. I of course live in Scotland, though, so the climate doesn’t always suit al fresco reading even at the height of summer. A few years ago, I went on a day trip to Dumbarton Castle and sat at the bottom of the Rock finishing reading what is now one of my favourite books, Findings by Kathleen Jamie. It felt appropriate to have a sweeping vista of the Clyde before me as I read such a far-reaching book.
So far this current season, I’ve read three books travelling to and from the football. The trip to Alloa saw me reading the wonderfully warped Hings by Chris McQueer, or at least for part of the journey as I was laughing too hard to read any more of the book on the train. Game one of the season, against Partick Thistle at Easter Road, was a re-read of My First Summer in the Sierra by John Muir, a reminder of past work and hopefully a prompt to future travels too. The League Cup game the following Tuesday saw me take the memoir of the music journalist Sylvia Patterson, I’m Not With The Band: A Writer’s Life Lost In Music. I even sat and read some of it while sitting on the veranda of a pasta restaurant in Leith, perhaps looking a tiny bit cosmopolitan along the way. Probably not, though.
I’ve read various stories lately about the sales of eBooks going down and conversely people reading less generally due to how busy life is. Planning just how to take time out takes up more time than the time out itself. Reading is a powerful insight into someone else’s world, whether it be biography or a novel. It is in essence a conversation between writer and reader and there are times, like in real life, when the conversation is loaded on one side or another. From the writer’s side, it can be because it isn’t sufficiently clear to make sense to someone else. The reader might be hindered by whatever they are feeling or thinking at the time, as much as how they read it especially if they are like me and in front of a tablet computer screen.
Having time to read is precious. I spend a lot of my life in transit and my life is enriched by being able to read even for a little part of it. Reading makes me a better person and certainly a better writer. Carrying a book is a natural part of my life though mainly they are books to put on a shelf. Being able to get a book for me and really sit down and read it is an ever rarer treat these days. Then again I also have a deep urge to write so a balance might have to come down somewhere in the middle. I might just have to wait for every second Saturday and use the travelling as my weekly or fortnightly reading time, hopefully not during the game itself.
It doesn’t feel so long since I wrote the last one of these. I seem to have been here, there and everywhere in August. I spent the first part of it on annual leave then much of the rest of it in transit. August seems to have been spent either at work or in the east of Scotland, mainly Edinburgh, with not so much time spent actually writing here. As ever, I have my iPad in front of me with photos to help me remember what I’ve done this month so here we go.
1st August I went to Dumbarton Castle. I had been away to East Lothian the day before and a lie in was required after a busy day. I was in the house around lunchtime and decided on the trip across the Clyde. I’ve been to Dumbarton Castle quite a few times but not since I stopped working in the town in late 2015. The train journey up from Glasgow was surreal, familiar terrain but not covered for a while, remembering past commutes and people I knew when I worked up there. It was a pleasant day, well, mostly, since it started raining while I was there, but I enjoyed the walk around the Rock, looking up the Clyde to hills and sea lochs and across the landscape to city streets and the Vale of Leven.
The following day was my birthday and I went to my favourite art gallery, Kirkcaldy Galleries, and spent a wee while amidst the Colourists, MacTaggarts and Glasgow Boys paintings.
That Friday, I had a turn around Glasgow, deciding to take in some of the lesser-spotted interesting bits of this great city I call home. First was the Buffalo Bill statue in Dennistoun, put up by a housing company to celebrate the East End Exhibition Centre that once stood nearby, hosting shows by Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley in 1891-1892. This statue stands in a square in the middle of a housing scheme, a wee bit of the Wild West in the East End. It’s a nice touch, paying homage to a past glory and also to the side of every Glaswegian, even us adopted ones, who aspire to be Americans. I hadn’t been to Dennistoun before and it was fine, particularly the stunning library building. I walked back into town along Alexandra Parade, one of those Streets of Glasgow walks, and it was nicer at the eastern end, I have to say, even with the church that looked like a fortress. I also did a Streets walk along Cathedral Street, which I know fairly well, but thought more en route about the ever-changing city landscape, sort of channelling Edwin Morgan. When I reached Queen Street, I ended up doing another of those things I had been meaning on doing for a while, on the train to Anniesland, via Maryhill and Kelvindale. It is one of the city’s branch lines, only opened about ten years ago and I wanted to do it because I had head it announced on the PA at Queen Street so many times as I was en route somewhere else. It was a brief journey, only about 20 minutes, and I mainly just looked out the window at the city passing by. I ended up on a bus from Anniesland to the Botanic Gardens, which spawned another post about the old railway there.
That Saturday I went to see Hibs at Easter Road. We won against Partick Thistle 3-1.
The next day I was away with my dad to Aberdour Castle in Fife and Elcho Castle in Perthshire. Aberdour is a castle I know well and I was glad to wander around the gardens and to get a gander at the painted ceilings, a lesser interest of mine. Thereafter we walked down to the harbour, looking across the Forth to Edinburgh. As we walked down the road, we passed two laddies who had peeled off most of their clothes and were headed for the water. Brave boys. As we walked back, they were out and clad in a towel to warm up. It was a full day and we headed to Dysart for lunch and then to Kirkcaldy for my second visit to Kirkcaldy Galleries in four days. Never object to it, mind. Elcho Castle was a new one to both of us and I liked it, particularly the little design touches characteristic of later Scottish castles.
The following Tuesday night, I was at Easter Road to see Hibs horse Ayr United in the League Cup. Beforehand I dined at an Italian restaurant in Ocean Terminal and sat on the veranda in the gorgeous Leith sunshine reading my book.
My next trip out of the west was Edinburgh again and Easter Road again. Prior to the game, I decided to go a slightly different route to the ground, going round the back of Meadowbank Shopping Park to the old Dunbar’s lemonade factory just behind the stadium.
Guess where I was the following day? Yep, Edinburgh again, Easter Road again, this time though for a play about the early years of Hibs, from its formation in the Cowgate to good days and bad, ‘A Field Of Our Own’, produced by the Strange Town theatre company and staged actually in the stadium, more precisely the East Stand concourse. It was excellent, thought-provoking and emotional at times. I left with my faith in Hibs very much restored after the dire performance against Hamilton the day before. I love my club. I walked to spend a few minutes with my favourite trees, the sequoias in the Botanic Gardens, sitting scribbling, reading and thinking. The evening was to be cultural again, this time an event at the Edinburgh Book Festival about the new book Who Built Scotland, featuring essays on 25 of the most interesting and important Scottish buildings written by Alexander McCall Smith, Alistair Moffat, James Robertson, Kathleen Jamie and James Crawford. I am a big Kathleen Jamie fan but sadly she wasn’t at the event. Instead the other four authors were interviewed by the splendidly acerbic Ruth Wishart, who is an excellent chair of these sorts of events, with the various authors talking about some of their chosen buildings, with the four authors expounding forth on pre-fabs in Kelso, Cairnpapple Hill, Bell Rock Lighthouse, Innerpeffray Library and Abbotsford.
My next trip to the capital came on Wednesday night. I was supposed to be going to a poetry reading at the Book Festival but couldn’t be arsed. I left work early and decided to head straight out of Edinburgh towards Musselburgh, having a chippy at Fisherrow and wandering around the harbour in the warm sunshine. I walked as far as Joppa and as I sauntered, I realised I wasn’t in the right mood for poetry. I headed back into the city, spent a few quid in the Book Festival Bookshop then came home, feeling the benefit of the quieter train home and being in my bed a few minutes earlier.
The Saturday saw yet another trip to Edinburgh, again for the Book Festival, this time for Ian Rankin. I had never seen Rankin live before but wasn’t disappointed. I’ve fallen in and out of love with Rebus but Ian Rankin is on a good run of form. He’s also a very captivating and compelling speaker and held court talking about Rebus in various media, writing and Police Scotland. I had once more left work early and got to Edinburgh earlier than I perhaps had to. I ended up walking up Easter Road and sitting by the Water of Leith for a bit in the sunshine before I walked along the side of the river back into the city to get a chippy before seeing Ian Rankin.
Very early on the Sunday, and I mean early, I left for Dundee. Hibs were playing on the live Sky game at Dens Park. I had a ticket for the posh seats, a very new experience, surreal but not altogether unpleasant, as it happens. Hibs should have won but it turned out 1-1. I also had my first taste of beef bourguignon, which was far better than the football. On the way back into town, my auntie showed me a trail of various murals in some of the city centre’s closes. I haven’t written a post about them yet but I like the idea of using hidden city spaces in that way.
Right, that’s August. Today, Tuesday, is also the second anniversary of when I started this blog. In the last two years, my confidence as a writer and as a person has grown considerably. Let the words flow. Thanks to all readers and followers. It’s been fun so far. Tomorrow, there will be a post. It’s one I wrote absolutely yonks ago about the National Railway Museum in York. In conclusion, I would like to share a particular place and quotation etched upon it I’ve shared here before but means a lot.
In going to the football every other Saturday, or whenever the TV people decide the game should be, I am generally consistent. I get a train to Edinburgh then walk to the ground, usually up London Road then Easter Road to Albion Road and round by the Famous Five Stand and in the East Stand. Sometimes, though, I like to mix things up and go a slightly different route. It keeps me from getting bored plus it satisfies the bit of me that just needs to walk as these diversions invariably take a wee bit longer. I was aware of a footpath at the back of the Meadowbank Shopping Park, to the south of the stadium, that led to the back of the ground through a fairly recent housing development called the Lochend Butterfly. In the spirit of research, I decided to go that way just to see where it took me.
The Meadowbank Shopping Park is just like any other retail park anywhere. It has a smattering of shops, lots of parking spaces, a fast food place and footpaths that take the pedestrian around the edges rather than directly through it. That was what I did, cutting around the side of Sainsbury’s. There were a few others doing the same thing so I drifted back behind them as this was new territory for me. The path was narrow anyway, surrounded by big boards keeping us out of the construction site. It led into some houses on the splendidly named Lawrie Reilly Way. Lawrie Reilly, who died in 2013 at the age of 84, was the last surviving member of the Famous Five, Hibs’ formidable forward line of the 1950s, formed, as any Hibee would surely know, of Smith, Johnstone, Reilly, Turnbull and Ormond. When housing developments tend to have generic street names, and generic houses to match, those names with local resonance make a small difference.
Over the railway, the road split. The right fork would take me to the back of the East Stand, which is where I sit, but I was running early so I followed it until I came to the back of a huge red-brick building bearing the words ‘JAMES DUNBAR’ in prominent white letters. This was the Dunbar’s lemonade factory, now artists’ workshops. I like ghost signs, or those advertising products and services that aren’t there any more. There are a few in Edinburgh, Leith Walk and George IV Bridge in particular, and the Dunbar factory is a cracking example.
The Dunbar factory also gives its name to the South Stand at Easter Road, nicknamed the Dunbar End. I soon arrived at the back of the South, a part of the stadium I haven’t been in for a long time. A lot of my early Hibs games, back in the late 1990s, were seen from the top tier of the South Stand, where Hibs Kids were allotted seats for games a few times a season. I remember those games, handing over a ticket at the turnstile and getting a set of football stickers or a flyer for a show back. The view from the South was particularly good. This was the time before the West and East Stands were redeveloped so there was a brilliant view up to Leith and over the Forth, always useful if the game was dull.
Easter Road is surrounded by houses, some older than others, with a fair bit of history around too. I walked around by the Norton Park Conference Centre, an old schoolhouse that yesterday housed the Kids Zone, a place where bairns could be entertained before the game, complete with a visit from the Fire Brigade (planned, honest). Norton Park used to be a high school and it appeared in a film called The Singing Street, made in 1950, which recorded playground games and songs of the era. I always remember The Singing Street playing on a constant loop in the Museum of Childhood, a much-loved museum in the Royal Mile in Edinburgh.
I’m a big advocate of going a different way occasionally. It helps to keep the familiar from becoming too familiar. I enjoyed this little diversion yesterday and I will probably take it again at some point. The little bit of me that is superstitious may question that since we got beat yesterday though my rational side doubts very much that Hibs being mince had anything to do with me taking a different route to the ground. There are connections between most things, for sure, but some things can be chalked down to Hibs being Hibs.
July has been busier with work than most months though I am now on leave so can slow down and travel more. I am starting this post on day one of my time off and in the diary I have football in Alloa and a day trip to Durham and Newcastle before the month officially finishes. The blog is even on hiatus until mid-August – this is the first post back – but I will probably be writing a fair bit while I’m off. Not too much, though.
So, to the month that was, and July began with a day trip with my dad to Argyll, taking in Benmore Botanic Garden near Dunoon and Kilchurn Castle that bit further north by Loch Awe. It was wet and grey at Benmore but we didn’t care, wandering amidst the trees and up to the shelter at the very top. The sequoias that form the entrance at Benmore are utterly gorgeous and the trip I’ve wanted for many years to Yosemite and Muir Woods in California was being mused about all the more under those fine trees in Argyll. We drove past Inveraray to Kilchurn and managed to park in a lay by just up the road. Kilchurn has long been on my list and it is in a stunning setting at the head of Loch Awe. It was well worth it. Read about this visit here – Kilchurn Castle
I spent an hour or two that week wandering about Glasgow’s West End in the rain, going to Kelvingrove and then to the Botanics, not for the first time pausing by the old railway and wondering what else lies under these city streets. Last week I was watching a documentary about the new Crossrail project in London and it was interesting to hear about what had been found about life in that great metropolis in centuries past.
The following Saturday I ended up in Berwick. Wandering the walls and looking into the distance was utterly ideal. I went to Dryburgh Abbey, read by the river then hoofed it the five miles to Melrose. The Borders Railway took me to Edinburgh where I had a psychogeographical meander before finally heading home. It was a brilliant, brilliant day. Posts – Walls, rivers and abandoned roads: a day in the Borders and Introverted roads
Saturday 15th July I was at a conference for radical library folk. It was held at the wonderful Glasgow Women’s Library in Bridgeton, and I walked from Central to Bridgeton and back, the return leg catching up with a friend who was at the conference too. Bridgeton has a memorial to Robert Burns, which I hadn’t seen before and liked immensely.
Edinburgh is my go-to place when I can’t think of anywhere else to go. I didn’t have a plan that Sunday and on the way out of Waverley I decided on a walk up Leith Walk towards Newhaven. My feet finally stopped at the Barnton Roundabout, having walked all the way along the Forth via Granton, Wardie and Cramond, the last bit due to the buses not being that regular. My feet are sore just remembering that one but it was great just to look and see another side to our beautiful capital. Post – Edinburgh’s promenade
My next trip out was to Edinburgh again one Tuesday after work. Hibs were playing but I got through to Edinburgh early. On the spur of the moment, I got off at Haymarket and walked along Dalry Road, all the way in fact to Tynecastle where I wanted a nosy at the new Main Stand currently being built by the Hearts. The big office bit at the back didn’t inspire me, to be honest, quite reminiscent of an out-of-town office block or something to be found in Cumbernauld or Livingston. I walked back into town via Murrayfield, where I paused by the war memorial (shown below), which is surprisingly subtle and elegant. I don’t normally pay much heed to war memorials, not out of any disrespect, but it gave me pause. As I reached Haymarket not long afterwards and the clock that stands there (shown below) as a memorial to those Hearts players who died in the two World Wars, I was thinking about how there are always things more important and before we consider rivalries, sporting or otherwise, there must always be empathy and respect for our fellow people who have gone out and made the ultimate sacrifice.
Hibs won in Alloa, as it turns out. I also managed to find time to get to Alloa Tower, a National Trust property which sits in the town centre. I liked it more the longer I spent there. I’ve been to a lot of castles in my time and too many of them have been built-up ones that were home to various entitled folk. But I liked it immensely, particularly the grand hall on the middle level, which had a gallery. The views from the top were fine, mainly across urban central Scotland towards Falkirk, Grangemouth and Stirling though also across to the nearby Ochil Hills, which were mostly shrouded in low cloud when I was there due to the often driving rain.
The day trip to Durham and Newcastle became a day trip to East Lothian instead. I slept in and missed the train to Durham, necessitating a change of plan. I had the idea to go east and ended up doing the whole thing by bus. I reached Edinburgh and got the bus to Dirleton Castle, one of the nicest castles in the country. The rain wasn’t too bad and indeed I sat for a while under a tree looking at the gardens, while it rained. It got nicer for a bit as I headed back down the coast to Seton Collegiate Church, one of the nicest, most peaceful places around. It was wet there too but dried up as I had a walk the few miles through Port Seton, Cockenzie and Prestonpans to Prestongrange. It was a great day, entirely unplanned at each stage, the best kind.
Well, that’s the July digest. This is the first post back after the break and I have a few new posts ready to go. This week there will be posts on Thursday and Sunday. Thursday’s will be about the day trip to East Lothian while Sunday will be a brand new Streets of Glasgow post about Alexandra Parade. Thanks so much for reading as ever.
Since this post was written in May, BBC Scotland have broadcast a documentary marking the 30th anniversary of This Is The Story, the Proclaimers’ first album, narrated by David Tennant. It was a very well-done insight into the band’s career and the resonance their songs have for so many of us. It will be on the iPlayer for a wee while for those within the British Isles.
I saved it especially. A new Proclaimers album, even just a live one. It deserved special attention. So, as my train crossed the Mearns after a day trip to Dunnottar, I clicked through and found the album, recorded last year far off in California. (Live At The Belly Up is the title.) Soon Sky Takes The Soul, once my ringtone, came through my ears and I knew it was good. As the train moved south, more than once I mouthed the words and moved my head to the music as thankfully the train was quiet at that point. Yellow fields were out the window as I slid further down the seat to the tunes of Letter From America and Over And Done With. A broad smile shifted my facial muscles nearer Arbroath with Spinning Around In The Air, words of Sam Cooke’s voice and quipping of old Boston as out the window were sand dunes and the Fife coast beyond. Sean, from the Sunshine on Leith album, starts with simple guitar chords, just right for a sea as the sun set, dark, moody.
Appropriately Cap In Hand, all about an independent Scotland, came on passing through Angus, an SNP heartland, and past Buddon Ness with its signs denoting use by the Ministry of Defence. Through Dundee came the newer Rainbows and Happy Regrets, quite appropriately for the City of Discovery, and then Misty Blue as the train got busier and the light slowly left the sky, dark clouds and darker arches of the Tay Bridge as it coursed towards Fife.
Then came Sunshine on Leith, even though I was still by the Tay. The Proclaimers are both much older than they were when it was first recorded in 1990 and the older voices suited the more soulful and subdued feel. ‘While I’m worth’ was softer, the words ‘tears clear my blindness’ emphasised more than the original, making it more of a ballad in this version. Sunshine on Leith is still the best song ever written, especially with the refrain played on a mandolin instead of a fiddle in the original, and it made me gasp and tears just about came into the bargain. Wow. It felt appropriate for my mood at the end of a long day, more chilled but still unspeakably beautiful.
Hate My Love For You struck up and I sat back up in my chair, a reminder that Perthshire fields were still out the window and I had a while until the train hit Glasgow. I’m On My Way was as ever loud and celebratory, hopefully of the moment when louder folk out on the piss were to alight at Perth. As the train passed close to the Tay again, there were nice reflections of the trees on the river in the twilight. Then I Met You was more urgent and faster than normal but had a nice guitar riff. The loud folk duly left the train as the train got to Perth.
I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) is the best-known Proclaimers song so invariably it is left until nearer the end. I always say there are better Proclaimers songs but this one isn’t so bad either. Indeed I was still nearly jumping about the train even through the tiredness which was hitting me ever more as the train moved steadily south. Again Craig and Charlie sounded older but it was a nice twist on it with a softer guitar and also without the ‘da-da-da-da-da’ bit coming in too early from the crowd, a common theme through live Proclaimers performances, particularly here in Scotland.
The curtain call came with Make My Heart Fly, a gentle number from the first album ‘This Is The Story’, a gentle air with the guys in harmony, a bit of piano instead of the flute, which suited it. Life With You is always reliable, especially with added electric guitar. Then the guitar strum which led into the finale, ‘The Joyful Kilmarnock Blues’. What the Californian crowd would make of mentions of the Hibees, Wishaw and Kilmarnock bonnets, one can only speculate. It was awesome, more upbeat than the original but still a song of the night. As the guitar struck up, my hand hit my notebook in time more than once. The Proclaimers turned into rock gods at this point too, with the guitar leading into a loud crescendo, as frenzied as they get as the song and the set drew to a close. I was still in Perthshire but it was an incredible way to spend a train journey, with my favourite band in my ears and some of my favourite songs rendered anew. I certainly didn’t want for anything.
This month I haven’t been terribly far. Just working a lot, living life, all that jazz. I’ve had to look at the photos on my phone to see where I’ve been that’s worth noting. On 2nd June, I was at the dentist. Just before I went in for my scale and polish (no fillings required), I had a wee turn around Elder Park, donated to the people of Govan by Isabella Elder. I have written a post about Elder Park, which will be published on the blog in late July, I think. I don’t get down that way as often as I used to, even while it is barely a mile away.
The following night I went out to dinner in Glasgow city centre. I had time to kill before my train home so undertook one of the Streets of Glasgow walks down Queen Street. It wasn’t my favourite of the series but I particularly liked the building above Greggs.
Friday 16th June I went on the trail of the Billy Connolly murals. I went on the bus into the town, along Paisley Road West as I sometimes like to do, just observing the city going about its business. I liked the Billy Connolly murals immensely, particularly the Vettriano one. I walked from the third mural, the Rachel McLean one on the Gallowgate, and down through the Gorbals to start another Streets of Glasgow walk, this time down Cathcart Road. I just felt like walking and I enjoyed watching the world change past my feet. I sat in Cathkin Park a while and noticed that it was looking very overgrown, though some of the posts have been painted green and white for some unknown reason. Third Lanark played in red so goodness knows. After that, I did the second Streets of Glasgow walk of the afternoon, this time along Battlefield Road, which despite being familiar was enjoyable and yielded a lot of interest – post appears sometime in the next couple of weeks.
That Sunday was the day of the Open Day at Easter Road and it got considerably warmer and sunnier as I travelled eastwards. Easter Road was mobbed but it was good to be back. I wrote about it the other day. Afterwards I walked up to Ocean Terminal, changing into my new Hibs top as my T-shirt was drenched in sweat. It was really too warm. I got a bus to Elm Row and then another out to Prestongrange, my old work, where I wandered about Morrison’s Haven before sunbathing for a bit. I then headed over the way for a walk around the site, reliving old times and trying to imagine what had once happened there. A real Carlsberg sort of day.
Most of the rest of my photos for June reflect that I worked nearly all of the rest of the month. When I was walking home one night, I stopped on the flyover at Cardonald and noticed how I could see for miles across the city, to the University, Park Circus and the riverside at the Science Centre. I like a view like that, not quite synoptic but good enough.
Today I was in Dunfermline, really just for lunch, then went home via Edinburgh. It was nice to be out of the routine, even for a little while.
July looks set to be interesting. I am away for the day tomorrow and football starts again so I will be out and about across the country. I have a few days up for grabs and I have annual leave at the end of the month too. Maybe a Streets of Glasgow walk or something else. We’ll see what happens. Until then, thanks again to all readers. Post on Sunday is about the greatest band in the world, The Proclaimers. Stay tuned.
Recently, the Hibernian Historical Trust had an Open Day at Easter Road. The Trust opened the ground to hundreds of us as part of the Leith Festival, laying on exhibits and trails and all sorts. I have done the tour before – it was a Christmas present a couple of years ago – but I never like to pass up a trip to Easter Road, especially since it’s still the close season and I am starved of football, or at least football played the Hibs way. I had been humming and hawing about making the trip, especially on a Sunday when normally I can’t be bothered to venture far. But still I did and when I reached Albion Place and turned towards the West Stand where the tour started, the queue was almost up to the Ticket Office. Soon, though, I was inside and going up the stairs into the stadium. The queue didn’t let up pretty much the whole way around the West Stand and the Players’ Lounge was absolutely stowed out with people. There was a danger of getting overwhelmed for most of the time I was there and so I took my time going around the exhibits as the crowds slowly faded away. This was particularly helpful when I reached the Gallery and I read the panels about the early days of the club. There is a guy who has been making Lego models of most of the football grounds in the UK – he’s on Twitter at @brickstand if you care to look. Anyway, he has made one of Easter Road, which the Club had on display, and it was fantastic, with lots of details that made me marvel about how dedicated people can be. Or absolutely bonkers, depending on your view.
A later part of the route led me into the Boardroom, which has some interesting exhibits including a new display about the Scottish Cup Final. I didn’t get much chance to look as it was still mobbed and I decided to take full advantage of the next stop being the Director’s Box and take a breather. On the way I took particular delight in spotting the heavy tartan blankets gathered carefully in a basket by the door. Those of us who slum it in the East Stand don’t get those, that’s for sure. The Director’s Box is right in the centre of the West Stand and their posteriors are treated well there, not only with blankets but soft black leather seats. I sat for a while at the edge of the Director’s Box and looked across the stadium, watching the steady line of people pass along the touchline. I also just liked being at the ground again. It’s not even been two months but when a very consistent part of life isn’t there for a while, it’s hard. Being able to just sit there, look out and catch my breath was immensely enriching and valuable, to keep myself enjoying my day and to be in one of my favourite places.
The Hibernian Historical Trust do very good work. I drew on some of it for the recent post Hibstory. They have worked closely with the club to make the very modern Easter Road more steeped in the club’s history. The press room has a display about the Hands Off Hibs campaign, when Hibs nearly merged with Hearts back in 1990. Each of the other rooms in the West Stand is stuffed full of Hibs memorabilia and they made an extra special effort for the Open Day, including my personal favourite artefact, the Persevered banner that bedecked the open top bus the day after the Cup Final, signed by the full squad. This I saw on the way to the dressing room, which is quite cosy and basic, then to the TV interview room with one of those lovely ad boards where I got a selfie. Then out the tunnel to the dugout to get a good look from the player’s point of view to the hallowed turf. Ever more people were around me but I still managed to get to be on my own to get photos of the stadium from different angles. I love architecture and once I wanted to design football stadiums. That’s not what I want to do as a grown up now but I retain an interest.
If Easter Road has a fault, it is a very boxy ground, with the stands pretty much identical. Aside from where I sit and possibly the upper section of the Famous Five Stand, there isn’t much of a view. From the back of the East Stand, though, the top of Arthur’s Seat soon came into view and even with the heat of the day, there were still loads of people climbing up the hill. I walked up the East Stand and it was there that I felt like at last I was at home. Later in the day I went to Prestongrange, where I used to work, and I had the same feeling of utter contentment of being in the right place as I did being back in the East. I sit in the middle of the East so I don’t normally see the bits of the concourse at either end. There is an elaborate drawing of the club’s badge, with the harp and castle, at the southern end, and also some prints of the programmes of important Hibs games around the walls. In the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this year, the East concourse is being used to host a play called A Field Of Our Own, about the early days of Hibs, produced by Strange Town in conjunction with the GameChanger Public Support Partnership. It is a massive space and I look forward to going along to see how it’s used to its best effect for the play, as well as to enjoy the play itself.
From there I went along into the Famous Five Stand and through the concourse into the club shop. Along the way there was another great queue for folk to get photographs with the Championship trophy as well as those recently won by the Hibs Ladies team.
For many people, football stadiums aren’t fun places to spend a Sunday afternoon. Fair enough. It is the people who make a place. I was thinking earlier about how I have become more of a Hibs fan since I moved to Glasgow. It is a deep link to my identity, to my roots as a person, to my family and places I don’t visit all that often any more. It’s why the other day when the fixture list for the upcoming season came out, within minutes I had my diary marked up and annual leave booked and the whole works, the next year of my life planned by the whim of the SPFL computer. It’s why I went to Edinburgh on a Sunday and went around a football ground in the close season, because it’s Easter Road and it’s Hibs and that’s just what had to be.
May 2017 has been busy with work and life but I have also managed to cram in quite a few interesting adventures along the way. Some of them have been written about here, some haven’t, but I’ve decided to start writing a monthly digest of my doings, beginning with May. I seem to be so busy with stuff that being able to sit down and reflect has become difficult. Almost immediately I seem to have one experience then straight onto the next. I get like that with blog posts too and indeed more than once I’ve looked at the stats and seen a post getting read a few times and I’ve had to think which one it was. The idea came reading another blog, The Glasgow Gallivanter, which had something similar. Hopefully she won’t mind me shamelessly appropriating the idea.
1st May was a public holiday so I had the day off. It was a bright sunny day and as ever I pissed about the house all morning trying to firstly get out of bed then decide where I wanted to go. The winner was Bothwell Castle, not far out of Glasgow in Uddingston, which I have been to a few times but was particularly good this time since castles often blend into one for me and there are architectural details I notice anew each time. I also wrote a blog post about it while actually there, scribbled into my notebook, and that post appears in June, I think. Rather than get the train back, I decided to go by bus instead and on the way through the East End, the bus came to Glasgow Cross and the idea came to do a Streets of Glasgow walk the length of the High Street. That walk was one of my favourites of that series so far, particularly for the phrase in that blog post describing an office block as being of the ‘middle finger school of modern architecture’. Each of the posts gives me an ever greater understanding and appreciation of this great city I call home and High Street was particularly valuable in showing the contrasts in architecture, demography and everything else that exists here.
That Friday I met a friend who was over from Ireland. I had some ideas but she suggested we go somewhere I had never been before. A surprisingly short time later, we walked in the door of the Glasgow Women’s Library in Bridgeton. A month later, I am still inspired by having been there. Earlier today, I was thinking about the block in their politics section dedicated to the late Jo Cox. Civility and decency in politics would be a great blessing round about now. I wrote a blog post about our visit to the GWL and it generated a fair amount of blog traffic as well as some very lovely comments from the GWL. After we left the GWL, we went to the Necropolis, a beautiful and beguiling cemetery full of the city’s merchants and eminent folk, then to Glasgow Cathedral. Provand’s Lordship I hadn’t been to before but I was impressed by its displays showing the history of the city around this one house.
Dunnottar Castle was the following Saturday and I did write about that on the blog. I still can’t believe I walked along the coastal path in a thick haar but I’m glad I did for the effect when the sun came out.
Last Saturday, I went on a day trip to Fife. I got a bus to Kirkcaldy and the tale of a seagull and a steak bridie that transpired there has since appeared in the form of an entry to the Scottish Book Trust’s Nourish competition. I walked around the coast to Dysart, through the rain that soon stopped, and enjoyed a few minutes looking at the wonderful Landing Light sculptures and across the haze on the Firth. Since the day wasn’t up to much, I got on a bus to St. Andrews, passing through Methil, Leven, Lundin Links, Pittenweem and Anstruther along the way. Anstruther was absolutely jumping, it being a nice day again plus being the day of the Harbour Festival. A few years ago, I was in Anstruther that day and promptly did a walk along the Fife Coastal Path to Crail, which was brilliant even though I almost had to shepherd some cows. When I reached St. Andrews, I was soon on the bus back to Glasgow, which was fine with me since sometimes I like just watching the world go by, covering great distances but not venturing too far on foot.
This also helped since the following day, Sunday, I was out again, this time in Midlothian and the Borders with my dad. We went to Crichton Castle, a rare sunny day to see that place at its best effect since invariably it is moody and gloomy with the cloud. The courtyard at Crichton is magnificent, the product of the fifth Earl of Bothwell’s trips to Italy in the later part of the 16th century. We ventured down the A68 to Soutra, stopping off at the Aisle which was once a monastic hospital. It has some very fine views across East Lothian, to Edinburgh, Fife and even Perthshire. Stop off there, if you can. Jedburgh Abbey was where we ended up, a fine abbey, the biggest and boldest of the Border Abbeys in my view but still rather fine. Jedburgh is a pretty town with a distinct character, a very Borders sort of a place.
So, that’s the tale of my May adventures. Thanks to all readers and particularly to those new readers who have come this way lately. Until next time…
Just over a year ago, in the lead up to the Scottish Cup Final, I took myself off one Tuesday afternoon on a tour of the then two places where my team Hibernian had won the Scottish Cup, beginning at the ground where the Final was to take place the following Saturday, Hampden, then over the hill to the old Hampden, Cathkin Park, and to Celtic Park where Dan McMichael’s men lifted the trophy in 1902. On 21st May 2016, Hibs won the Cup after 114 years with a 3-2 win over The Rangers. A couple of days before the first anniversary of that magnificent day, I visited St. Patrick’s Church on the Cowgate in Edinburgh. It was in the church’s rooms that Canon Edward Hannan and Michael Whelahan formed what was to become Hibernian Football Club in October 1875, an occasion marked by a plaque in the church put up by the St. Patrick’s branch of the Hibernian Supporters Association. I had never been to the church before but thought when I was in the capital that day I would go take a look. It was a peaceful and pleasant place and I was glad I went, even for the wee fix of Hibs to help me through the close season currently in progress. Then I thought about the first anniversary of the Cup Final and I started to plan out a special historical walk in search of Hibs. Beginning at St. Patrick’s Church, the plan was to walk up to the Meadows, where Hibs played the first Edinburgh derby on Christmas Day 1875, then to the Grange Cemetery and the grave of Canon Edward Hannan. From there the plan was to follow the parade route of 22nd May 2016 when 150,000 folk lined the streets from Parliament Square to Leith Links, finally finishing with a detour to Easter Road itself. It felt the best way to mark Sir David Gray Day, and it was better as the train neared Edinburgh and the sun started to come out.
It felt only right to start at St. Patrick’s Church, given its place in the history of Hibs. The Cowgate was known as Little Ireland, where the Irish community of Edinburgh settled in the later part of the nineteenth century. One of them was James Connolly, better known for his part in the Irish Home Rule movement and particularly for his role in the 1916 Easter Rising. He was born in the capital and it is said he was a Hibs fan in his youth, even a ball-boy at some of the club’s games. There is a plaque to Connolly’s memory, short and factual about his role in Ireland, under George IV Bridge. Interestingly, just after I stopped, a guy in a Hearts jacket and his mate stopped too. We must do our bit to guide those less enlightened.
I walked up Candlemaker Row amidst various tour groups, on foot and on buses, though none of them was on a tour quite like mine. When I reached the Meadows, cricket and football games were in progress while other folks were just sitting on the grass. It was quite a muggy day but windy too, as is hardly atypical of the capital all year round.
The Grange Cemetery is in a very prim and proper part of the city. I walked through Marchmont to get there and with every step I felt the property prices going up. Impressively the Grange Association and the City of Edinburgh Council keep the cemetery well-tended with a leaflet box and a sign marking the notable people buried there, including the Labour politician Robin Cook and theologians Thomas Chalmers and Thomas Guthrie. Very swiftly, inevitably, I got lost and realised I was going the wrong way. Soon enough, duly corrected, I ended up in front of the Celtic cross that marks the grave of Canon Edward Hannan, the priest who was the first manager of Hibs as well as other virtues. His gravestone talked of his clerical but also his public service as a good citizen. I stood there for a few minutes and thanked him for his part in this story that led from Little Ireland to Hampden Park and beyond, to one of the best days of my life as well as some that might not have been as great.
As ever when I am in a cemetery, I thought as I walked about the frailty of life and how it should be cherished each day. A powerful reminder of this was when I came across the grave of a child only a few months old, which featured the heartbreaking line about how this poor boy was a ‘star who shone too bright’.
Back on the Meadows, I read of that first Edinburgh derby, where boys kept the best of the pitches for the game and tape was used to mark the goals. The game finished 1-0 to Hearts – not an outcome that has happened in a while, admittedly, since Hibs have been unbeaten in eight derbies. Hibs changed in a nearby school while Hearts donned their kit in a pub. I like that distinction but wouldn’t dream of remarking further. When I reached Parliament Square, just a little bit before 3, I found out that Hearts had failed to stop Celtic finishing the Premiership season unbeaten. Parliament Square was where the victory parade started after a civic reception. I decided to wait there until 3, about 15 minutes away and exactly a year from when the game began. It started to rain then but it didn’t last long and I sat in front of St. Giles watching a tour group and lots of others pass by. The High Street was the usual mass of humanity as I walked slowly down through the crowds. Unusually I stopped a moment to enjoy some of the street entertainment, in the form of three fiddlers who were whirling up a storm. On North Bridge, it was just after 3 when I stopped and smiled as I realised that a year ago to the moment Anthony Stokes had just scored the first goal.
As I reached Leith, though, the game would have been 1-1. It was being shown as if live in the Harp and Castle as well as at least one other pub in the area. At the Harp and Castle, there was a list outside showing the football matches being shown in the pub that week, ending with the Final, with the words of the title of the DVD and the banner held across the North Stand at Hampden as the game began: Time For Heroes. On a nearby lamppost was a sticker of the James Connolly Hibs Supporters Club, based in Dublin, a link to the club’s past as our future forms ever more. I was beginning to tire as I reached the foot of Leith Walk and looked back up towards Edinburgh. I stood under Queen Victoria’s statue and imagined 150,000 people there a year ago, some still drunk from the night before, others drunk on sense of occasion. I only saw the start and finish of the parade, at Parliament Square and Leith Links, and it was to the Links that I proceeded to collapse on the hill looking to where the bus parked and that great Cup was paraded.
A year later, I still can’t believe that Hibs won the Scottish Cup. I was at the game. I’ve held the trophy. I even have the winning goal on the mug I drink out of. Every time I see the highlights, particularly the winning header from Sir David Gray, my arms are aloft. It never fails to cheer me up. There’s things you think you’ll never see. Green and white ribbons on that trophy, after 114 years, after all those great teams who tried but didn’t succeed, that’s something. I am proud that I was there. Hibs are a major part of my identity, even while I now live at the wrong end of the country, and I can’t imagine my life without them, without that day in May.
As I walked down Albion Road, there was birdsong. Only moments before I passed a pub where loud singing about the Rangers player Andy Halliday emanated forth. It was only 4.20 and at the time the game was 2-1. It was therefore a little premature to look to the side of the Famous Five Stand and see the mural that depicts David Gray and Lewis Stevenson above the word ‘Persevered’. Two goals were still to come but it was a valuable reminder that it really did happen. There was one stop before I headed for the train, Bothwell Street, now normally the route home for away crowds but once where our ground was, Hibernian Park. Drum Park became our ground following the club’s return from the brink of oblivion in 1893 and it became Easter Road, even though it isn’t actually on the street that bears that name. Bothwell Street is now houses on both sides, grey tenements on one side and new flats on the other nearer the old railway.
On London Road as I rested my aching feet it was 2-2. All day I had memories of where I was and what I was doing the previous year. In Marchmont I thought about my journey to Hampden, standing outside the South Stand before heading through the turnstile. At 2-2, I remember my auntie, who put me onto Hibs when I was a kid, saying she couldn’t watch. I could, though, but the nerves came back. As I reached the corner of London Road and Royal Terrace, I looked up into the sunshine and realised a year ago to the moment David Gray headed that ball Liam Henderson delivered right into Wes Foderingham’s net. By the Playhouse it was exactly a year since Steven McLean blew the full-time whistle and 114 years were no more. A year had passed since that incredible moment. It only felt right to spend the first anniversary learning more about the club that gave us that day, to walk back into history and go on a journey back to a time when the men of the parish needed a distraction and a way to integrate into a city and when their descendants lifted a trophy that ended a hoodoo and started us off on another pursuit, back into the Premiership and to write another story.