I like photographs. Taking them and looking at them. There are places that are photographed a lot. Of the two thirds of a billion photos taken each year that aren’t selfies, a fair few of them must be of Edinburgh Castle or Stirling or the British Museum or even Dunbar. I was just choosing a photo to illustrate a post which will appear in December about my East Lothian accent and I chose one of the Victoria Harbour in Dunbar, a scene that appears on many a postcard of my home town. It seemed right for the post but it got me to thinking of how many places suffer from having the same photographs taken of them again and again. As a public service, here are a few photos I’ve taken of fairly well-known places. Hopefully they have only been taken a few hundred times, as opposed to a few million or whatever.
I started October on annual leave so plenty of rovings to report this month, beginning with a Sunday sojourn down the coast. I had a notion to go somewhere and decided on a wee spin on the train. From my bit of Glasgow, there are direct trains to Wemyss Bay on a Sunday and I soon stepped out of a train in the beautiful glass station, taking in the Victorian architecture. I was tempted to walk down the boardwalk to the ferry to Rothesay but the weather was wild and windy and the decision was made easier just to keep on dry land. I was going to have a wander but with the wind I just took a few photos and scurried across for the bus to Largs. The road from Wemyss Bay to Largs is one of the best in the country, suitably dramatic with views to Cumbrae, Bute and Cowal, only better with the white-topped waves. As I walked in Largs, the wind and the rain nearly blew me off my feet so I only went a little way before retreating to a coffee shop then the train home.
The next day, for want of any better ideas, I went to Edinburgh. I hadn’t planned anything so just walked up Leith Walk with the hope that I would have a brainwave en route. Luckily I did and ended up on the bus to Portobello to walk along the prom there, the weather being sunnier and much nicer than the previous day. A few weeks previously, I had written a piece on old power stations (to appear here in due course) and mentioned the old power station in Portobello, now replaced by houses and five-a-side pitches. A photo I came across with the station’s demolition came to mind with King’s Road in the background and a massive crater where the station used to be.
That Wednesday I went to Perth, where I took in the ever braw Perth Museum and Fergusson Gallery. The Fergusson had a particularly intriguing exhibition of paintings and documents about Fergusson’s friendship with Charles Rennie Mackintosh. For those who will insist on asking me rather than utilising Google, it’s on until 29th January 2018. Perth Museum’s excellent exhibition celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Perthshire Society of Natural Science with very well-arranged stuffed huge animals is on until tomorrow, 4th November.
Before I went to Perth, I had time to kill so undertook a Streets of Glasgow walk along Renfield Street.
The following day I took a train to Berwick, loving walking the walls in the sunshine. I particularly relished being able to look in the distance to Lindisfarne and Bamburgh. As I walked, I tried to decide where I would head for next, down south or up north, eventually settling on Dunbar. I bought an Ordnance Survey map since unaccountably I had left the relevant sheets in the house and because I had notions to go to Dunglass Collegiate Church and the waterfall at Bilsdean, both close by each other up the coast nearer Dunbar. Sadly bus times were against me so I headed straight for Dunbar instead, soon avoiding high waves as I walked along the prom to the East Links. I hadn’t been in my home town for about six months and being on familiar turf was really what I needed. I hadn’t been to the Battery on Lamer Island for a while and was glad to be there to see the new art installations and interpretative boards around it. Looking out to the North Sea, St. Abbs Head, the Isle of May and the Bass was particularly good on that bright sunny day. My visit also included a walk along the Prom, where my spirit was washed a little cleaner.
It is mandatory when visiting Dunfermline (or Kirkcaldy) that I do my utmost to sample some of those lovely steak bridies from Stephens the bakers, regardless of the result. Thus it was that Friday that I was sat in Pittencrieff Park in Dunfermline with two bridies, ensuring they were swiftly polished off. Dunfermline is a very easy place to reach from Glasgow and my plan was to take in the new Carnegie Library and Galleries, one of those all-purpose cultural buildings that spring up all over the place. It’s excellent, with a branch library and archives as well as museum and gallery space. Since I was on leave and I thus didn’t want to linger amidst the books, most of my visit concentrated on the stunning views to the Abbey as well as the art and museum objects. There was an exhibition of some of Fife’s considerable art collection, including a few Colourists and Glasgow Boys (and Girls) works familiar from trips to Kirkcaldy. Another highlight was the video of archive footage of gala days and the like soundtracked by Dunfermline musicians, namely the Skids, Big Country and Barbara Dickson, quite an eclectic mix. Honestly, it’s better than it sounds.
On the way back, I did a Streets of Glasgow walk on West Nile Street in the city centre.
Over that weekend, I went to watch Hibs lose to Aberdeen then on the Sunday I went to Cathkin Park, particularly liking being in that fine place in the midst of autumn leaves. Another Streets of Glasgow walk resulted, this time on Union Street in the town.
The following Saturday, Hibs played Celtic in the League Cup semi at Hampden. The unexpected pleasure of a comfortable leather seat only slightly mitigated the horror of losing to the lesser greens. I have a sort-of tradition of walking home from Hampden after semi finals and that was what I did, covering nearly five miles from Mount Florida to Cardonald. Luckily the sun had come out by that point and the autumn colours again made it a nice walk, soothing a brow furrowed by the football just witnessed at the National Stadium.
That Tuesday I was in the capital for the derby. Beforehand, I got there a bit early so had a psychogeographic wander around the New Town.
Last Friday, I was in Partick. After doing my business over there, I went to Kelvingrove, paying particular attention to my favourite painting, the Paps of Jura by William MacTaggart.
On Sunday, I went to Dundee with my dad. We headed first to Broughty Ferry where we lunched on a bench watching the local sailing club in action on the Tay. Broughty Castle with its art and natural history was very fine, though of course I proceeded to slip on the stairs, right in front of the bemused museum assistant who proceeded to ask if I was all right. It happens enough that I don’t even get that embarrassed any more. After Broughty Ferry, we headed into Dundee city centre to visit the mighty McManus Galleries. The Diam slices in the cafe are outstanding. We had a walk by the Tay quickly before it got dark.
So, that’s October. The clocks have gone back and the nights are fair drawing in. I never used to like autumn though we have been lucky that it has been quite mild here in the west. Lots of good adventures this month. Plus I’m back studying too and even still ahead of the course calendar. Hopefully there will be more adventures (and ticks off the course calendar) to come in November.
Thanks as ever to all readers and followers. I am particularly proud of October’s posts, particularly ‘Scotland by museums’ and ‘Muriel Spark’, and I hoped you enjoyed reading them. The next post here will be on Sunday. It was going to be about Platform 9 3/4, delving slightly into Harry Potter, but instead it will be about studying. Often even more magical.
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Back in this blog’s early days, I was told that one thing that would improve it was photos. They would break up the text. Ever since I’ve kept to that and indeed I often take photos specifically for the blog, sometimes on spec for a potential future post. I would like to share some of my favourite photos from the blog over the last couple of years, giving some of the context behind them.
This first one was taken at the Science Museum in London, with what might be the Rocket in the centre of the shot and a lighthouse lamp from the Western Isles to the right of it. The Science Museum is excellent and it is stunningly arranged.
This was taken in the old Victoria Infirmary in Glasgow during a tour just before the current works to turn it into flats. You can almost see the nurses, doctors and patients moving along.
This is the old Winterfield Pavilion in Dunbar, now demolished. It stood abandoned for most of my lifetime though previously it was used variously as a performance space and public toilets. I suspect my interest in abandoned structures may have started there.
This is Kev’s Beach, not far from St. Abbs Head in Berwickshire. It is a little cove with a pebbly beach just off the path. It does have a name on the OS map but it felt like my own discovery, hence its unofficial moniker.
Dryburgh Abbey is a stunning place just by the Tweed in the Borders. I’ve only ever been there on gloriously sunny days, including this summer when I sat a while by the river and read. Blessed in that dawn to be alive.
This is the back of the old James Dunbar lemonade works, behind Easter Road Stadium in Edinburgh. The South Stand at Easter Road is still referred to as the Dunbar End, not because it is in the general direction of Dunbar, which it isn’t, but for the works.
Last one is Cathkin Park, taken a couple of weeks ago, a beautiful autumn day just to ponder and wander.
Some of these were taken with my camera, which is a Nikon Coolpix L340, though most of the more recent ones were taken with an iPhone 7. The last two definitely were. I haven’t taken my camera out all that often recently but since it has been a gorgeous autumn, I may just have to change that.
Now, this isn’t a League of Gentlemen thing, all about ‘local museums for local people’. In my years, I’ve been to more than a few museums, some big ones, the massive kind in big cities with security guards and Rosetta Stones and that, as well as smaller museums, the ones that fit into one room and have displays that might not have been updated in the last couple of decades. I try to take each one as I find them, seeking to be open-minded and curious even while I may not have much affinity with the place or with what is being displayed. Most towns and cities in Scotland have a museum, some, like Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen, have quite a few. The National Museums and Glasgow Museums get enough limelight. As much as I like traipsing around NMS, Kelvingrove, Riverside and the rest, I generally prefer the museums to be found outside of the Central Belt, even just outside Glasgow and Edinburgh. They tend to be less familiar and so have more to actually learn and absorb.
Every so often, a new local museum springs up. When I was off recently, I took a trip to Dunfermline, an old haunt of mine, to go to the brand new Carnegie Library and Galleries. Dunfermline already has a museum all about Andrew Carnegie, who was born in the town, and it is quite fine. Since Carnegie donated money to build libraries all over the place, including a fair few here in Glasgow, it was only natural that he bunged his home town a few quid to build a library, which opened in 1883. That building was refurbished and enlarged over the last few years with a suitably grand Victorian exterior on Abbot Street and a more modern wood, glass and boxy affair looking onto the garden and the Abbey beyond. Inside it is stunning. The library is agreeably old-fashioned looking with wooden shelving and the archive bit manages to combine wooden shelves and looking quite swish with a mezzanine level. It was filled with light and lots of gaps to see the light and the rest of the building at different points. The museum and gallery spaces were much more modern and the tone was set by the entrance to the building, which housed panels, some audio-visual, with images of Dunfermline and its prominent citizens and pursuits over the centuries, as well as a Vespa scooter. Not sure quite why but I liked it all the same. What tickled me was that the museum featured photos of well-kent folk from Dunfermline, including Jim Leishman, who is perhaps best known as a football manager for Dunfermline and Livingston, amongst others, as well as occasionally scribbling doggerel poems to inspire his teams. Referred to as the ‘Lochgelly Messiah’ in Ron Ferguson’s Black Diamonds and the Blue Brazil, Leishman is now a Labour councillor and the Provost of Fife, no less, and there is a plaque by the reception saying that he officially opened the place, as well as featuring in the exhibits. Legend. Another highlight was the video featuring local scenes, probably from the Scottish Screen Archive, though it featured a soundtrack of music by local musicians, including Barbara Dickson, Big Country and, wonderfully, Into The Valley by the Skids. I’ve written here before about one of the highlights of watching a game at East End Park in Dunfermline being the steak bridies made by Stephens. Another is hearing the Skids belted out at full volume as the teams come out. The video in the museum was originally playing in the background though cleverly it got louder as I walked towards it, sitting down in front of it on a comfy cinema-style seat. I could have sat there all afternoon, to be honest. The museum didn’t suffer from being quite bitty and thematic, as so many museums tend to be nowadays, going into some topics but not following a strict linear chronology. The architecture of the building, inside and out, was cracking and I just liked walking around it, looking out the window and down and up and through the place.
The fact I know Dunfermline fairly well probably affected my response to its museum. If it had been a place I know less well, the museum may not have resonated as much with me. A couple of days previously, I was in Perth. I like Perth – it’s a douce, prim sort of town, a traditional market sort of place. Its highlights for me are the Fergusson Gallery, dedicated to the work of Colourist artist JD Fergusson, and Huntingtower Castle, which sits just at the other side of the A9 at the edge of the city. This time I went to the Fergusson, where there was a good exhibition linking Fergusson to Charles Rennie Mackintosh (on until 29th January 2018, incidentally) and for a daunder along the Tay. On the way back, I hit Perth Museum and Art Gallery, which sits in an elegant building with pillars and an atrium just up from the river. The first time I went to Perth Museum was a few years ago and I remember being struck by how dated its displays were. Some of the displays about the local area were produced in 1990. This was well into the noughties. I was born in 1989 and at that point I could vote and everything. Thankfully, it has been spruced up since then though it is about to shut for a refurb again. The natural history and geology bit, which is much the same age as I am, was fine though it was hard to get into. It was a lot of reading, which is fine, though not knowing Perthshire very well or much about its geography or wildlife, I was a bit lost. The current exhibition celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Perthshire Society of Natural Science (on until 4th November) was great, with lots of taxidermy on show as well as good, absorbing exhibition panels about the society’s activities. I go to enough exhibitions to know when a curator has had fun putting an exhibition together and the curator at Perth had clearly been loving their work, displaying all these stuffed animals in such a way that really stood out.
Scotland is far more than Edinburgh and Glasgow. Or indeed more than Loch Ness or Stirling Castle. It is those places that aren’t always obvious. One of the best museums in the country is the Signal Tower Museum in Arbroath, another is Broughty Castle Museum in Broughty Ferry, just outside Dundee. The other day I was thinking about being at the opening of the museum in Musselburgh a few years ago, which manages to combine a whole lot of the history of that fine burgh in a space about the size of a newsagents. There are still loads I haven’t seen. For years, I’ve been meaning to go to the Stewartry Museum in Kirkcudbright, which is apparently from a bygone age, and indeed to the Dumfries Museum and Camera Obscura. It’s a fairly difficult part of the world to get to, Dumfries and Galloway – as written about a wee while ago in Awkward – so it will probably be a while until I get there. I still haven’t been to Eyemouth Museum, which has a good collection about fishing, despite it being fairly close to Dunbar, where I grew up.
This is why I am in no particular hurry to travel abroad. Where I live, or near to it, is interesting enough already. The museums especially.
September was a fairly quiet month, travel-wise, with most of my forays out for football. My first trip out of the west in September didn’t come until Saturday 16th September, when Hibs played Motherwell at Easter Road. I took a diversion on the way to the ground to the Eastern Cemetery, to visit the grave of Dan McMichael, the manager of Hibs when they won the Cup in 1902. McMichael’s grave wasn’t marked until 2013, made right by the efforts of the St Patrick’s Hibs supporters club. He had died during an epidemic of Spanish flu in 1919 and due to the numbers of folk succumbing, graves weren’t being marked. It’s an interesting story and I’ve written a post which will appear in the coming month about that walk.
The following day was Doors Open Day in Glasgow and my dad and I went to various places across this great city. The first was an unexpected surprise, a curious step into a memorial garden dedicated to the victims of the Arandora Star sinking in 1940. Scotland is a very multicultural country and particularly over the last 200 years, we have seen people come here from all across the world. Many of them were Italians. During the Second World War, however, Italy and the UK were at war and many Italians living in Scotland were interned or sent off to Australia or Canada. Some of them were on the Arandora Star, which was sunk by a German vessel off the coast of Donegal. The garden featured tall mirrored glass pieces around a water feature. This was to symbolise the elegance of the liner and the torpedo coming in to sink it. The glass featured various apposite Biblical and poetic quotations. Around the walls of the garden were plaques about Catholicism in Scotland as well as about the Arandora Star. On Doors Open Day, there was a mannie there talking about the Arandora Star and he was excellent. The garden is open every day and I urge people to go have a look. We walked along the river to the Riverside Museum, a fine place but absolutely mobbed since it was a nice Sunday in September. As we came past the SECC, we could see and hear lots of sirens from the Riverside. Given that the Parsons Green bomb had been left on the London Underground only a couple of days previously, we could be forgiven for being on edge but it turned out that the emergency services were at the Riverside as part of Doors Open Day. After lunch, we went across town to Provan Hall, in Easterhouse, a couple of manor houses dating from the 15th and 16th centuries, now managed by Glasgow City Council. Stevie, the tour guide, was amazing, giving an incredible tour which brought the place alive and it was a true Horrible Histories-style tour, probably the best I’ve had in a long while. Back across town to the Botanics and we had a wander there before dinner.
The following Tuesday night I was back in Edinburgh for football. I travelled through a bit sharper and had a meander around the New Town. I stopped for a few minutes to admire the sphinxes on top of the Royal Scottish Academy on the Mound, which I hadn’t really looked at before. I took a turn around Charlotte Square, now recovering from the Book Festival, and towards Northumberland Street, Broughton Street and Forth Street. On a whim I decided to go along Annandale Street to see where the Lothian Buses depot is, which is a series of big sheds with the logo of the various Lothian companies on the front of one of them. On the way was an Islamic centre with various interesting quotes etched on the side.
That Saturday Hibs were playing Ross County in Dingwall, a place I had never been to before. I got a bus to Inverness and had a walk along the river before getting the train to Dingwall. I’ve been watching a YouTube series called All The Stations recently (more about that in the upcoming posts about Wemyss Bay and also the one called Stations) and that stretch of line, including Beauly which has a very short platform, was quite familiar to me from that with the Cromarty Firth to the right as the train moved to Dingwall. Dingwall itself is a nice market town though the football seemed to be the main event in the place. The bus ride back to Glasgow was very long but pleasant just to read and write.
I was off that Monday so I decided to go off to Edinburgh. On the way, I decided to take a diversion via ferry. Over the summer, the Govan Workspace was running a free ferry shuttle from Govan to the Riverside Museum just across the Clyde and to my discredit, I had not been on it despite bunging them some money. I decided to put that to rights and I enjoyed my 30-second journey immensely, despite the grey and the gloom. I got a train from Partick to Queen Street then another to Edinburgh, where I had decided to go for a walk in Holyrood Park. I am not a climber so Arthur’s Seat was not on the agenda. I decided instead to walk up to Dunsapie, up the back of Arthur’s Seat, familiar to me from walks from my primary school, which is about a mile away. I sat there on a rock for a while before heading back down. I got a bus from Meadowbank back into town and spent a very enjoyable hour in the National Museum of Scotland, lightly grazing and wandering rather than getting bogged down in one display in particular. NMS is one of those places where I can only concentrate for so long since it has a lot of stuff. I had forgotten how good NMS is in its breadth and depth.
On Saturday, Hibs were playing at Celtic Park. I walked there from Central Station, particularly liking being around Glasgow Cross with its tolbooth spire and high buildings.
So, that’s September. I was off for the start of October so a few posts have resulted from those adventures which will appear in the coming days. Thanks again to all readers for their comments, likes and follows. Toodle pip.
Posts published –
I’ve written a few times here about Prestongrange, a mining museum in East Lothian where I worked for a few years and for which I have a deep and lasting affection. Some of them are My somewhere, Pans, Being autistic in a museum (again) and Books. I get there every few months, usually spending about an hour just wandering around the grounds, by the Beam Engine and the Powerhouse before circling around the Hoffman Kiln. Before I go onto the site, I usually spend a while walking around Morrison’s Haven, once one of the busiest ports in Scotland, the rival to Leith just up the Forth that once had vessels carrying coal, bricks and much else besides from Prestongrange to all parts of the British Isles and even abroad. It was filled in as part of a land reclamation project in the 1950s with rubbish and rubble from the mines and surrounding communities. Today there are some traces of the harbour, including banking and the harbour mouths, and there are some boards put up by the Prestongrange Community Archaeology Project showing boys swimming in the harbour in times gone by. Due to the mine being nearby, the harbour water was very often warm, apparently.
I was there just the other day, as normal getting off the bus just into Prestonpans and walking back towards Prestongrange along the coast. It was a gorgeous afternoon, in the midst of a heatwave, and I relished being right by the Forth and looking across to Fife, the sea quite calm and just enough clouds across the sky to make it not absolutely roasting. I ended up sitting on a rock for about half an hour, doing some sunbathing and practising mindfulness. I closed my eyes and tried to focus on each element of the sounds around me in turn, from the waves to the wind to the cars on the coast road nearby. I tend to have a lot of mental chatter and just being able to focus on one thing and let my brain quieten down was utterly brilliant, even just for a bit.
After I walked around Prestongrange, I headed for the bus stop. I’ve stood at that bus stop many times, often for a fair bit of time when ostensibly there should be a bus every ten minutes heading into Edinburgh. There are many worse places to stand, though, with a view across Morrison’s Haven to the Fife coast and towards Seafield, Leith and the Pentland Hills. Similarly there’s a broad view with the top of the bus usually visible over the trees nearer Sammy Burns’s yard. Every time I’m there, I always think back to those days when I stood there on the way home, in the rain and the sunshine, after days of seeing noone as much as event days when hundreds of people passed through.
As I crossed the railway tracks towards the old glassworks, I thought about living in the west of Scotland. I have a deep familiarity and love for Prestongrange. I know a lot about the place, as I do about Dunbar, even Edinburgh. I’ve lived in Glasgow for four years. I have been writing about it for a while now and it is home geographically and in many other senses. But I don’t feel it in my bones and my soul as much as I do the east. It is happening, though. I love the west. There are places here I have come to deeply love – Cathkin Park, Pollok Park, Prestwick Beach, Culzean – but the deep knowledge comes from spending a lot of time in a place. Time is on my side, though, as I don’t plan to leave here any time soon. Being a visitor to Prestongrange, as I now am to Dunbar, means a trip through there is now a treat, something to be savoured and the feeling of being back on solid ground stays with me for a good few days. It starts when I get off the bus at Morrison’s Haven and doesn’t go even when I step back on it and head back into Edinburgh and then for home. The best places you leave behind physically never actually leave you. Even with distance, they stay deep inside, memories returning once we return or when far away and we smile and look in that direction. It was good to be back.
There are some day trips when I take loads of photographs, others not so many. Only a fraction get used on this blog while others only exist to make me smile, to ignite a memory or as a reminder of an idea for later. One day trip last year when I took far more photographs than ever appeared here was the day I went to York. Being a details guy, I love signage and the National Railway Museum has absolutely loads dotted about the place, some more obvious than others. I have been there maybe seven or eight times and every time I see many new things. That particular day was great. I remember unsuccessfully trying to take a selfie beside the sign for the NRM’s library, which is wonderfully named Search Engine. (Serves me right for trying to take a selfie.) Anyway, here are some photographs of some of the very fine signs around the National Railway Museum in York. Hopefully I’ll be back there soon.
I feel bad. This post was written absolutely yonks ago, well back in January, and it has been pushed back and pushed back as other things have been written and jumped the queue. So, I am publishing this tonight and another post I wrote ages ago tomorrow night. I have a great backlog of stuff to go up and at this rate I could publish it all and not write anything until September, which isn’t going to happen. Without further ado, here’s a post about a museum visit.
The other day I was reading a post on a museum blog entitled ‘I Really Hate Clipboards’, which brought back a powerful childhood memory. I went to primary school in Edinburgh, in a special needs unit, and we were taken one day to the National Museum of Scotland in Chambers Street, particularly to the bit that had just recently opened on the corner of Chambers Street and George IV Bridge. (I still think of this part, which used to be called the Museum of Scotland, as the ‘new’ bit despite the fact the bit formerly known as the Royal Museum, the ‘old’ museum, has now been redone and is now very much newer.) We were issued with clipboards with questions and prompts of things to look out for. I remember being in the Beginnings section in the basement, the bit with lots of dioramas and taxidermy just before it gets interesting with Pictish stones and torcs, and being bored out of my skull clutching this clipboard and a pencil. Afterwards my teacher asked me what I thought of the day and I said I hated it because of this wretched clipboard, to which she replied that she thought I would like it and it had been done partly for my benefit.
Even back then (I was 9), I was bright and curious, happy just to wander and take in what was there. A clipboard completely changed how I saw the museum. I am of the view that a learning experience, such as it is, can happen anywhere. I can think of more history I learned stomping about castles and museums than I did in a classroom. I know that schools have experiences and outcomes to meet, bits to tick off forms for the benefit of school inspectors, councils and the government, but the world is beyond the wit of the Curriculum for Excellence or 5-14 as it was when I was a boy. I have worked in museums and I know that museum education is an artform. Many people do it very well, including National Museums Scotland. They know how to engage people and clipboards aren’t the answer, for kids like I was or anyone else.
I’ve never met a library I haven’t liked. I’ve been in many of them, worked in more than a few too, and in each one I ever visit, I always feel the same sense of contentment in the presence of collected knowledge. I never feel anxious in a library but that might be because of my background working in them as well as the still sense of order in each one.
Recently I went to the Glasgow Women’s Library, which sits in Bridgeton in the East End. The GWL has been on my radar for a while – what I heard of its work, from colleagues and library users, impressed me immensely. Libraries open up worlds for people that they didn’t know existed and the GWL has a very broad collection of works by female writers as well as museum and archive collections on politics, lesbian issues and the National Museum of Roller Derby. They also provide outreach sessions and workshops for women from all sorts of backgrounds on all sorts of things. All this I was broadly aware of before I walked into the place but what I was struck by was its friendliness. Within moments, my friend and I were welcomed, offered a cup of tea and whisked away for a tour. Many people have an image of libraries as rather forbidding, unapproachable sorts of places and those who work in them as much the same, a perception many of us are trying our hardest to change. The GWL lives up to its credo as expressed on the A-frame at the door: ‘We Are Open To Everyone’. Even me, the only guy in the place, a fact I only noticed well into the time we were there.
The tour included the museum store, all climate-controlled as befits a collection which is recognised as a nationally significant collection by the Scottish Government. JA and I are both museum geeks so getting into a store with its boxes all carefully accessioned and labelled is a rare treat. The mezzanine level houses some of the older and rarer books, including one I spotted about Jane Welsh Carlyle, wife of the Victorian intellectual Thomas Carlyle and a writer and thinker in her own right. Jane hailed from Haddington in East Lothian, in fact the house where she was born is across a narrow close from the town’s library.
The main lending library was naturally where I had to be next, to look at their collection, which wasn’t organised by Dewey, rather by subject with Drama, Poetry and Politics rather than a series of numbers with a decimal point attached for good measure. The books were kept in place with blocks marked with the names of writers, though most poignantly the Politics section had a block bearing the name of Jo Cox, the MP who was assassinated last year. I saw lots of books I would have loved to just sit and read, including a biography of the very versatile and prolific Scottish writer Naomi Mitchison. Time, alas, precludes such pleasures.
Nan Shepherd wrote that ‘it is a grand thing to get leave to live’. Libraries give us leave to live. One of the greatest pleasures of being in a library is having your mind blown by something you read. Even better still is working in a library because of the people you find there, the kind that boil the blood as much as those who become more like friends. Libraries are open to everyone and I have never failed to feel comfortable in any of them I’ve ever encountered. Not everyone feels that way and that must change. The Glasgow Women’s Library is a truly special place and I am proud that this city, my city, is its home. Their work in sharing literature and stories makes people feel part of something, a movement, a collective where no one is alone. Theirs is an open door in an often closed world. It must be cherished and celebrated, now more than ever.
Thanks for reading. In the next couple of months, I will be publishing the 300th post here on Walking Talking. To celebrate that milestone, I would like to open it up to suggestions. If anyone has any suggestions for the 300th post, put them in the comments box or contact me in another way if you know how. We have one suggestion already but I am open to others.
In about ten days time, I am off for about ten days. This is the longest period of time off I’ve had in ages at a time of year that doesn’t have Christmas involved. I am looking forward to it more than I can possibly say. I have exactly two things in my diary over the time, both Hibs fixtures, but beyond that I am a free man. I spent some time this morning thinking about a few ideas for day trip destinations since I haven’t really been on a big day trip in months, coming up with a few good contenders. Since working to a schedule is all part of working, I don’t intend to be too rigid about how I spend my time. If I want to have a lie in one day, I will. If I wake up and think ‘I want to go some place’ then that can happen too.
One idea was to visit one of my favourite parts of the world, Lochaber. The bus trip to Fort William alone will be worth the trip, passing Loch Lomond on the way out of Glasgow then up by Arrochar to Crianlarich, Tyndrum, Rannoch Moor and Glencoe. I am an atheist but even I would consider Glencoe an argument for a divine being. From Fort William, I intend to head west a bit to Glenfinnan at the mouth of Loch Shiel. Glenfinnan is where the Jacobite standard was raised by Charles Edward Stuart’s forces after he landed in Scotland in 1745. There’s a muckle monument dedicated to that so I’ll go there, not out of any great sympathy but because it is beautiful, sat right on the shore by the loch. Not so far is the Glenfinnan Viaduct, as seen in the Harry Potter films, and also a contender for best loch in Scotland, Loch Eilt. I’ll spend a couple of hours and then make my way back to Fort William, eat then go home, hopefully contented. That’s a long day but hopefully I will get the weather right. Then again Fort William is one of the wettest places in the country so I will be taking a big kagoule, just in case.
Another contender I was thinking about this morning was Manchester. I’ve been there a few times but the motivation was put in my head by one of my friends who I saw on Friday night. We’re both library geeks and there’s a brilliant one called Chetham’s, which is brilliant and worth seeing, I’m informed.
Similarly I have been thinking about London, heading down overnight on the Sleeper then back up the following evening on a Virgin Pendolino. I am not the hugest fan of London but a wee trip to the British Museum and maybe out to Greenwich wouldn’t be bad.
Apart from that, there are some other ideas kicking around. I haven’t been to Dunbar in ages (save for a toilet break when in the area a fortnight ago) so my home town probably needs a visit. I looked up the exhibitions in Inverness Museum and the Maritime Museum in Aberdeen but they don’t strike my fancy. Dunnottar Castle, near Stonehaven, is one I have wanted to get back to for ages, only intensified after being at the similarly beautiful Tantallon a couple of weeks ago. I wrote in a post last week about the National Museum of Rural Life in East Kilbride and I might just have to head out there. It is on a bus route from Glasgow, I think, so you never know.
I am off the week after the school holidays finish, which is a great advantage in visiting any of these places. In my experience, when the schools go back is also when the weather gets better, which is another undoubted bonus. I know with absolute certainty that I won’t get to all of these places when I’m off. But it’s fun planning anyway, almost as much as the actual travelling in my experience. I will write up where I get to here. Any suggestions in Scotland or northern England will be gratefully received.