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.
It’s been quite a year so far. I haven’t been as far as I would have liked to have gone but a lot has happened personally and professionally. I work full time now and that has a lot of benefits as well as the flaw that I have less time to roam and wander. Some of this blog’s posts recently have been informed by chance glances and snatched moments for walks when I’ve been places for other reasons, like Around the Holy Ground, Streets of Glasgow: Buchanan Street and The view from the McDermid Stand.
The football season finished yesterday and while that makes me sad in one sense, I am also excited by the prospect of a fair few free Saturdays in the near future when I am not constrained by the fixture list to head for Easter Road or a provincial football ground a decent bus hurl away. In fact since I started writing this post, I have just booked a day trip for this coming Saturday. It will take me to Aberdeen. Not to be there for long, rather I will go a wee bit further down the coast to Dunnottar Castle, just outside Stonehaven. I have just gathered from Traveline that I can get a bus straight from Guild Street Bus Station in Aberdeen right to the road end for Dunnottar, which is just dandy. Dunnottar is excellent, a real ruined castle sitting on a promontory jutting into the North Sea. Plus it has a great history too, used as a prison for Covenanters plus the church nearby was where the Crown Jewels were hidden when Cromwell was about.
At this current moment, Hibs will be back in the Premiership next season so trips to Aberdeen, Motherwell and Kilmarnock will replace those to Dunfermline (steak bridies no more), Kirkcaldy and Greenock. I will look forward to those, particularly to the more far-flung locales. I haven’t been to a fair few Premiership grounds, including Firhill here in Glasgow, Inverness, Dingwall or even Dens Park in Dundee as written about here. In the meantime, though, the close season is now upon us and I am looking forward to Dunnottar and all the other places I will get to along the way. I don’t think I will plan too far into the future so there’s a bit of serendipity involved, a case of just picking a bus or train and going. When there hasn’t been a lot of scope for that this year, the prospect cheers me greatly, almost as much as Premiership football, in fact.
Recently I read an excellent book, Saturday, 3pm by Daniel Gray, a series of essays covering the essence of the football experience. I read a staggering amount about football in a given week, some of it well considered, thoughtful and measured, most of it really not. Saturday, 3pm I read on a day when Hibs were playing and I was 70 miles away, relying on social media for updates, constant refreshing of the screen to make sure I didn’t miss a single moment of the action as I also tried to do what I’m actually paid for. I have never read a book that gives such a good insight into what many of us feel on away trips or when the fixture list for the new season comes out, little things that mean a lot to thousands of people all across this land.
About twenty years ago, I was in primary school. I went to primary school in the east of Edinburgh, about thirty miles from where I grew up. I was in a special needs unit which catered for children on the autistic spectrum, some high-functioning like me, others less so. In those years, we went on some amazing trips, including to the Scotland Yard Adventure Playground in the New Town with its bikes, slopes and sand pits, and Gorgie City Farm with sheep, pigs and cows, naturally enough. One of the most special, though, was to Easter Road, a place I was already very familiar with as the home of my team then as now, Hibernian FC. We had a tour of the Holy Ground, then half-complete with the Famous Five and South in their present form but the West and East still more rustic. I suspect I was one of the few that really enjoyed the short journey to Easter Road but I do remember one of my classmates, who was brilliant at drawing, sketching out a huge likeness of the then Hibs badge when we got back to school.
I was reading an interesting post on one of the Hibs forums about a dad whose lad is on the spectrum and how he is trying to get a sensory room installed at Easter Road, which is an excellent idea. I am fortunate that the sensory experience of football for me is mostly comfortable. Most issues I have at the football are more practical and anxiety-related, like will I find my seat okay or will someone ask me to move to fit their pal on the row or whatever. Most of my life I try very hard to be calm and I have pretty much mastered walking up and through a row of stewards towards a turnstile looking quite unruffled while internally willing myself forward. I have a system when I go to Easter Road. I usually make sure I have change in my hand for my programme and my Happy Hibee tickets, often counted out having paused on Albion Road for a moment. My motor skills aren’t the finest and it tends to be awkward when I’m all awkward scrambling about for change. A lot of folk are very understanding about that, though, thinking my fumbling is because my hands are cold. Usually by the time I reach the turnstile I have a programme in one hand and some change and my season card in the other. By the time I get to my seat, high up in the East Stand, I can have added a couple of pies and a juice to the mix, all balanced with a minimum of fuss.
I go to the football partly because I like the crowd. I like being part of a common cause. It would be nice to know more people at the ground but I am used to being alone. Most of the time it doesn’t bother me. I tend to be at the ground early so I spend a fair bit of time watching the ground fill up around me, peering down to the warm-ups and across the city through gaps in the stands. The East Stand where I sit is blessed/cursed with a rubbish sound system. The music played over the tannoy is often muffled and quiet so I don’t always pick it up. I can still hear it but it’s more like a radio in the background. That is an unintended advantage, a reasonable adjustment on the part of the club that I greatly appreciate. When I was at Hampden the other day for the semi against Aberdeen, the PA was loud and boomed. The Hibs one doesn’t boom. I must be one of the few people in the stadium who is happy with our crap tannoy.
Until the end of this current season, the Easter Road singing section will be in the East Stand, a couple of sections along from where I sit. I quite like that – I like being near where the action is and that extends to being near where the songs start – and the drum doesn’t frighten me as much as it used to. It has the pleasing sound of a train going over tracks and that can be more soothing, especially when there’s a bit of distance. Next season, the singing section is moving to the Famous Five Stand, to the right of where I sit, about half the length of the pitch away, and I am sure it will be better acoustically. I am desensitised to the drum now and loud singing rarely bothers me either. In fact the only time recently I remember getting even vaguely overloaded was the game at Tannadice, which was also a night game and loud generally.
For me going to the football is about focus. On a good day I can have a hyper-focus. I am there to watch a football game. I might be taking in the other details, the ad hoardings, the songs, the folk around me, but what I am really focusing on is the game itself. I am fortunate that my spot at Easter Road is in the centre of the stand about three-quarters of the way up, affording possibly the best view in the stadium of the action, high enough to see the whole pitch without any issue whatsoever. My preference where possible is to be side-on as opposed to behind the goals. I don’t mind being behind the goals – as in recent trips to Stark’s Park, East End Park and Cappielow – but I like to see the action, not squint into the distance. I think it’s about difficulties with filtering information. The National Autistic Society’s strapline of ‘Too Much Information’ is spot on. It’s about focus and if I can see properly, there’s less to filter and figure out. I remember being at games as a kid and on the way home checking the news to see who actually scored in the game I was at.
I don’t tend to think about the business of actually going to the football as much as I do the being there. Being a Hibs fan is a key part of who I am. It helps me talk to people, particularly men, as football is common ground for many of us, even if our teams differ. Hibs have also given me some very good times, foremost among them Saturday 21st May 2016 when the Hibs went up to lift the Scottish Cup and the three times I have so far seen Hearts beaten and beaten thoroughly. As I write this, the season is about to end. I am excited about the next one – the other blog post today is called ‘The close season’ about the trips next season to Premiership grounds – though what has become a key part of my routine will be lost for a couple of months. Luckily there are museums to be visited and shorelines to be walked and soon it will be July, the season 2017-2018, back in the Premiership and maybe to win our Cup back too. It’ll be worth it.
I’m not very impulsive. I usually think on things then never act on them. Occasionally I do but there’s usually a day trip involved somewhere along the line. A few weeks ago, I was in East Lothian for the day, a fine visit to my home county on a pleasant sunny Sunday afternoon. We had just been to Tantallon Castle, possibly one of the finest castles on this great planet of ours, and were driving to Pressmennan Wood when on impulse I asked my dad to stop the car at a place called Pitcox, not far from Dunbar. The reason I did was because of an old signpost that stood at the road junction there, produced by East Lothian County Council at least before 1974. The signpost marked four directions, towards Stenton, Garvald, Gifford, Pathhead Farm, Halls Farm, Bourhouse, Spott and Dunbar. I can’t quite explain the attraction of the signpost beyond I just like the link to the old-fashioned way of doing things. East Lothian is still a very old-fashioned sort of place and there are a few of these signposts dotted around the county, including one in the very heart of Haddington on the junction of Station Road and West Road. In this age of sat-nav and Google Maps, navigation by instinct, knowledge and simple guiding seems to have gone by the wayside. The world is deeply complex and all we can do as people is find something to relate to, even if it might not be totally obvious. It’s the psychogeographer in me that made me stop. There are wonders to be found in the unlikeliest of places. The Impressionist Camille Pissarro said it best:
‘Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where others see nothing’.
I realise I haven’t written so much here about psychogeography. I became interested in it a few years ago after reading some articles on the subject by the novelist Will Self who walked from his house in west London to New York, or at least from his house to Heathrow then from JFK into Manhattan. I think Will Self is up his own arse – he tends to throw spanners into the dictionary and use a polysyllabic word when a decent, shorter one might do – but psychogeography struck a chord with me. It is a French Situationist concept come up with by a philosopher called Guy Debord, who sought to make sense of the anonymous big city by getting lost in it on what he called a derive or aimless drift. His big city was Paris. Mine was Edinburgh.
The capital of Scotland is a city I know very well. I was born there, I went to primary school there. I’m even going there tomorrow to see Hibs. One of the reasons I know it so well is because when I used to go on day trips, all I could often afford was to go to Edinburgh and explore. I often went on derives around the New Town, often starting on Dublin Street by the Portrait Gallery and seeing where I ended up. Waverley Station was inevitably my final destination but it was the getting there that made it interesting, following psychogeographical concepts and taking random left and right turns. I haven’t been on such a walk for a while but I still turn off on a tangent from time to time even when I supposedly have a fixed route in mind to follow. The other week I was heading to Easter Road and walked up Leith Walk since I was running early. I ended up taking a diversion through the New Kirkgate shopping centre (less said the better) and found Trinity House museum then ducked through the very fine and springlike South Leith kirkyard.
The project I started a few weeks ago, Streets of Glasgow, has a psychogeographical dimension to it. I’ve lived in Glasgow for nearly four years but I still haven’t scratched the surface of it yet. Far from it. The walk on Buchanan Street was brilliant, a few snatched minutes in a lunchbreak from a training course, and I hope to get out some more in the coming weeks. In the meantime, there are always new things to spot when looking the right way, like the ghost sign I spotted on Nelson Mandela Place walking back from the bus station the other week.
Just shy of a year ago, I went to York, one of my favourite cities. One of the highlights was the National Railway Museum, which I always refer to affectionately as the most autistic place on Earth. In the Station Hall was a signpost which tickled me when I saw it then and sums up much of my outlook on life. One direction points ‘To the glorious and unknown’. It might be just a little bit impulsive but that’s all good with me.
Before I forget, very soon, probably some time in June, will be the 300th post on this here blog. I like to mark these things, as with The things I love are not at home and Post 101: Talking, so for the first time, I am going to crowdsource what I write about for the 300th post. So, if there are any suggestions, based around what tends to appear here, please do let me know, either through the comments section or by other means if you know them.
First, a disclaimer. This post is mildly sweary. It is part of the story to be sweary this time and I have a policy of not using asterisks as the world doesn’t need to be bowdlerised.
That being out of the way. Last weekend Hibs won the Championship. We will be promoted to the Scottish Premiership next season, which is brilliant. We won the league with a 3-0 win against Queen of the South, after Falkirk drew with St Mirren. When we won the Scottish Cup last year, there was an epic pitch invasion which is still being investigated by Police Scotland. Near the end of the Queen of the South game, the stewards started putting up barriers separated by flimsy red and white tape right in front of the East Stand, which is where the rowdier elements of the Hibs support sit and also where I sit. The absurdity of this made me laugh but what made me howl was the response of the singing section, which was the chant ‘What the fucking hell is that?’ to the tune of ‘You’re Not Singing Anymore’. Class.
Why I’m telling you this is I had a similar response to this when I was in Dunbar the other day. In fact, twice. When I was at high school, I didn’t have a lot of friends. I often went out for a walk at lunchtime and ended up in one of two places, on the Prom or if I felt like walking further, to the bottom of a park called the Glebe, on a point jutting out into the sea. I walked along there to find a fence a good ten feet from where the cliff dropped and right in front of where I used to sit. My response was ‘What the fucking hell is that?’ Seriously, East Lothian Council! Without sounding like the Daily Mail, health and safety gone mad. Indeed whenever I am in Dunbar I make a point of sitting there for a while. I did this time too, by climbing through the fence and plonking myself on the grass and eating my pieces, on the wrong side closest to the sea. It was brilliant as the sun came out and I sat in my T-shirt as I ate and looked over to the harbour and to the folk climbing on the rocks nearby.
Time number two was when I walked on the Prom. As long as I have been alive, the Prom path has always been cracked. Indeed when I was a kid I used to walk along the cracks for much of the route. But a small part, as it passes the Pin, has been tarred. No idea why. No other part of the path, which runs to about half a mile, has been tarred. It was very recent, not recent enough to draw your name in it or anything but only a week or two old. Even newer was a John Muir quote chalked onto the tarmac, namely:
I spend a lot of my life thinking thoughts along the lines of ‘What the fucking hell is that?’ One of the ways I keep sane is marvelling at how absurd the world is, in how people think and what people think is a good idea. I don’t normally sing it, though, but I might just have to start, even just to be absurd myself for a bit.