Digest: June 2018

Heat. Exam. Buses. Shorts. Sunshine. Castles. The first six words I can think of to describe my June. It has been very warm here in Glasgow for the vast majority of June. I am writing this on Saturday night and it is sweltering. I don’t handle the heat well anyway but this week has been beyond belief. This whole month has, really. We tend to get summer for about a week then it gets all horrible again. This year it’s been summer with a few days of dreich. I could do with some dreich soon, though.

Lighthouse lamp at National Museum of Scotland

Friday 1st June saw me going to the capital for some shopping. I walked up the Royal Mile, had a look at the quotes lining the wall outside the Scottish Parliament then ducked into St. Giles, intending on writing about it for Loose Ends here on the blog. It didn’t happen as I was scunnered by the £2 to take photos. I spent far longer in the very lovely National Museum of Scotland, which did feature in Loose Ends this past Sunday. I had forgotten how good NMS is and I only went to a few select bits, much of the Scottish and some of the old museum. Brilliant place.

St. Andrews Castle
Dunfermline Abbey Nave

The following week I was off for my OU exam. I revise better with less distractions and amazingly well on buses. I ended up on a bus to St. Andrews, reading my books on the way and having a good wander around the town and along the beach when I got there. The following day I ended up in Dunfermline, again revising on the bus and taking in the Palace and the Abbey Nave, the latter the work of the same stonemasons who did Durham Cathedral. That was another Loose End, featuring here this coming Sunday. The Friday was exam day and I sat in the Botanics before sitting my exam. I think it went okay. To chill out my head I walked into town to get the train home, going via Renfrew Street. It was a week before the fire and that night with the sunshine it felt good to be there, lots of folks around for the degree show.

Fossil Grove

Sunday 10th I went to the Fossil Grove, just over the river from here in Scotstoun. I had never been but it was fine, a wee bit neglected but interesting all the same. I walked to Kelvingrove via Partick, turning off Dumbarton Road past the West of Scotland Cricket Ground and Partick Burgh Halls, both fine looking places. I went into Kelvingrove and made sure I saw my favourite painting, The Paps of Jura by William McTaggart.

That Monday I had a day trip with a good friend and it was great. We started at the Kelvin Hall, looking at the museum displays, before going across to Kelvingrove to sit in the atrium cafe for a bit. In Edinburgh we walked up to Leith and just generally blethered. It was great.

Neil Lennon’s view from the dugout. They take the tape down for the games.

Next adventure was the next Sunday, the Hibs Historical Trust Open Day. For more on that, read the post on Easter Road West. Here’s Neil Lennon’s view from the dugout. Normally it doesn’t have red tape.

Library at Abbotsford. Je t’aime.

The following Saturday I had been thinking about for ages. Eventually I decided on the Borders and it was the right move. A social media recommendation took me to Abbotsford, a country hoose once home to Sir Walter Scott but with a braw library. I walked to Melrose by the river through the hay fever and took a turn around the Abbey, a place I had been to before but I had never fully appreciated before. On the train back to Edinburgh I decided on a chippy over in North Berwick, which I ate at the harbour. Post on this adventure appeared here the other day.

Dumbarton and mountains beyond

The next day I was with my dad and we went to Cardross and Dumbarton Castle. Cardross featured a wee glimpse of the St. Peter’s Seminary. Dumbarton was the right place to be on a gloriously sunny day. The ice cream just made it so.

On Wednesday I went shopping after work. I soon realised that the trains were off because of the heat. I got the Subway to Govan then had a few minutes before the bus. I walked down to the river and had a good look at the Mary Barbour statue. The bus had difficulties again because of the weather but eventually it got moving and I got home.

Gable end mural, Browns Lane, Paisley
Murals, Browns Lane, Paisley
Mural, Browns Lane, Paisley

Friday I was off and went out for dinner in Paisley at night. I went up Browns Lane to see some street art and ticked off another item on my 30 Before 30 list, a drink of Belhaven beer. I wasn’t keen.

That’s June. This month I have read We Shall Fight Until We Win, the graphic anthology produced by 404 Ink and BHP Comics to mark the centenary of some women getting the vote, as well as The Marches by Rory Stewart and What Goes On Tour by the Secret Footballer. Plus too bloody much about Huguenots and Martin Luther. I am currently reading the memoir by mountaineer Cameron McNeish and re-reading Notes From Walnut Tree Farm by Roger Deakin.

Finally, there’s also a post on my football blog, Easter Road West, tonight. It’s about Dylan McGeouch.

Thanks as ever to all readers, followers and commenters. Have a nice month.

Posts this month –

Streets of Glasgow: Addison Road

Loose Ends: Lamer Island

Subway Surface: It starts

Loose Ends: Tranter’s Bridge

Different routes

Subway Surface: Govan-Hillhead


Loose Ends: Culross

The where and the how

The beach at the back of the bay

Subway Surface: Hillhead-St. George’s Cross

Loose Ends: Glasgow Cathedral

Abbotsford, Melrose and chips by the sea

Visiting Glasgow

Subway Surface: St. George’s Cross-St. Enoch

Loose Ends: National Museum of Scotland


Digest: May 2018

That’s the end of May then. Another busy month and a whole lot of adventures. In May I’ve been to Aberdeen, Edinburgh, East Lothian twice and all the way to Crookston. A lot of travels have been football-related though some haven’t, not least the first adventure I had in May neatly packed into a lunchtime. I was in Glenburn, a suburb of Paisley, and over lunch I ended up going for a walk a little way into the Gleniffer Braes, sitting down on a bench with a considerable view across Paisley to the hills beyond. It was a new perspective on a place I am becoming increasingly familiar with.

On Saturday 5th May I went to Aberdeen to watch Hibs. I left fairly early in the day and read and listened to music on the way up. I went to the football then took myself out to dinner before going home. I was thinking about the Bank Holiday Monday which was coming and ended up buying Ordnance Survey maps for two very disparate bits of Scotland, the area around Hawick in the Borders and Elgin in Moray, before I boarded that bus to civilisation. As it turns out I didn’t get to either one.

The following day was lovely and warm and I had a lie in. After all I had been all the way to Aberdeen the previous day. Mid-afternoon I went out to Crookston Castle, intending on writing about it for Loose Ends, a series featured on this blog on Sundays at the moment. The place was fairly busy with people though that didn’t stop me enjoying the views across this bit of the world. Crookston Castle is within half an hour’s walk so I did just that. On the way back I finally made it to Rosshall Gardens where I wrote up notes and pondered a ruined boiler house in the grounds. I still need to write that bit of the adventure up.

The next day was Bank Holiday Monday and after much deliberation I ended up on the way to Edinburgh. I wanted to do a dry run for visiting Tynecastle that Wednesday so I proceeded in lovely sunshine into deepest darkest Gorgie, found where the away end is then swiftly came away again with no fixed agenda. I found myself at the bus station thinking about where to go and I just missed a bus to St. Andrews. There was a bus sitting bound for East Lothian and I thought briefly about Hailes Castle before eventually concluding I quite fancied a trip to Dunbar. On the way down I felt like going to Lamer Island, the Battery, which has featured here before and that was where I ended up after a turn around the harbour. I managed to find a connection to Crookston Castle and thus my visit also became part of the Loose Ends series. Alas time and train timetables meant I didn’t have long before I needed to head back to Glasgow.

No wonder I’m tired. The following night I went out for dinner. On the way we looked at some of the very fine street art which is scattered around the Merchant City.

Next night was the derby at Tynecastle, another item off my 30 Before 30 list.

That Sunday was the last game of the season and it was at Easter Road. I don’t have any end of the season traditions and when I left the ground, leaving through exit number 7 as always, I decided to go get fish and chips by the sea. That became North Berwick and after walking to a shop to get provisions, it became a walk around Aberlady Bay first. Aberlady Bay, for those who don’t know it, is a nature reserve with a long, deserted beach at the end of it. But first I had to cross Tranter’s Bridge, a wooden bridge across a burn named after the author Nigel Tranter who often walked there trying to think up ideas. The bridge, which I knew about but Google Maps didnae, features in Loose Ends soon too. The walk was beautiful but very warm. I ended up on the beach and to my slight surprise I ended up sunbathing for a bit. I don’t sunbathe. I think the sand that was still stuck to my body hours later when I got home is probably why. After that interlude I walked to Gullane then got myself to North Berwick for fish and chips, which were no’ bad, eaten by the harbour.

That Tuesday I was doing a work thing in Renfrew Town Hall, recently refurbished, and it is a fabulous building.

The next Friday I ended up in Edinburgh and went for a long walk along the Water of Leith from Leith to Murrayfield, ending up there on the bus home. Particular highlights of this walk were St. Bernard’s Well which was gorgeous in that light and the grounds of the two Modern Art Galleries in the Dean Village.

That Sunday I went to watch Partick Thistle play Livingston. Thistle got relegated.

I walked home from work the next Friday and walking over by Arkleston, there was a brief moment by the motorway when I could be fooled into thinking I was in the proper countryside.

The next day was Saturday and I was off. I went to Culross, via Dunfermline where I partook in some steak bridies for lunch. I was a bit too late for the Palace but I wasn’t heartbroken since I was able to wander in the sunshine, sitting and reading for a bit and looking at the many fine buildings. I went to Culross Abbey all too briefly and the Abbey ruins were great to explore on that beautiful day.

The next day I spent the day with my dad, bopping around central Scotland, starting in Linlithgow with a turn around the loch. We then drove the few miles to Cairnpapple Hill. From the cool but pleasant weather in Linlithgow, Cairnpapple was shrouded in haar. This made the experience all the more beguiling, other-worldly as we made our way round the henge with visibility only a few feet in front of our faces. Barely five minutes away in Torphichen, it was much clearer and sunny. We had lunch in Callander Park in Falkirk, looking over a duck pond. It was good to see the museum and park busy with people. Thereafter we drove across the Forth to Castle Campbell, one of the more atmospheric Scottish castles, with a walk through Dollar Glen an added bonus. Dollar Glen feels like something out of a fairy tale, or where trolls, goblins and nymphs should live. Castle Campbell is great, a blend of ruins and a fairly intact though restored tower house. Before dining in Linlithgow, we headed back to Cairnpapple Hill where it was now sunny and decent views could be had despite the haze. We first had to contend with some cows. A family were already there, reluctant to venture across the field. To slightly misquote We’re Going On A Bear Hunt, we couldn’t go over them, we couldn’t go under them: we had to go through them. We succeeded and the perspective was well worth the close encounters of the bovine kind.

Monday was a bank holiday and I decided to satisfy an ambition and another thing on my 30 Before 30 list to boot. I decided to walk the route of the Glasgow Subway. On the hottest day of the year. I succeeded in 4 hours and 8 minutes from leaving Govan to getting back there. Tales of that adventure will appear here shortly. Afterwards I had a fleeting visit to Glasgow Cathedral, which will be part of the Loose Ends series after Culross.

That’s us for May then. On Friday it is Streets of Glasgow time and it is the final post of that series before hiatus, Addison Road. Loose Ends returns on Sunday and it is Lamer Island this time.

Before I forget, the Wednesday’s Child blog featured an interesting post recently about what constitutes being well-read. I said I would share a list of some books that have been important to me and these appear below. At some point I will go into greater depth as to why I like these particular books:

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and A Far Cry From Kensington by Muriel Spark

The collected works of Roald Dahl

The collected works of Douglas Adams

The Harry Potter series

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg

Candide by Voltaire

The collected works of Kurt Vonnegut

The Cone Gatherers by Robin Jenkins

Nasty Women, the feminist anthology compiled by 404 Ink

Godless Morality and Looking in the Distance by Richard Holloway

Findings by Kathleen Jamie

The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd

Waterlog by Roger Deakin

Neurotribes by Steve Silberman

Tony Benn’s diaries

My First Summer in the Sierra by John Muir

The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida

Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon

Walking Talking takes a week off next week. That’s for practical reasons. As some of you might know, I’m doing an Open University degree and the exam for my current module is next week. I’ll have to revise. Exams aren’t good. I don’t see the point in them but that’s easy to say when I’m staring down the face of one.

The Easter Road West blog, my football outpost, goes to one post a week over the summer. The football’s finished! I know there’s the World Cup but I couldn’t care less about that. Anyway, May posts might have a limited shelf-life as I was writing about then-current events. The best post over there was the season review.

Thanks as ever to all readers, commenters and followers. It is one of the nicest bits of blogging that sometimes lengthy digressions can occur because of comments or seeing just which random has liked a post today. Cheers, folks.

Posts in May –

Digest: April 2018

Causeway cliffs

Loose Ends: Linlithgow Palace


Walking talking

Streets of Glasgow: Waterloo Street

The beginning

Flotsam and jetsam

Streets of Glasgow: Cadogan Street

Loose Ends: Stirling Castle


Streets of Glasgow: Firhill Road

Loose Ends: Crookston Castle

Digest: April 2018

April’s over and it’s featured snow and sunshine, not always at the same time. I’ve worn a thick jacket and shorts, though definitely not at the same time. So, it’s Digest time, beginning on the tres, tres cold Easter Monday. I took a train into town and as it stopped waiting for a platform at Central, I took a photo of a warehouse in the process of demolition. I stopped off in Edinburgh and managed to source a Stephen’s steak bridie or two for lunch before getting the train down to Dunbar, where it was cold and windy. It often is there though it doesn’t snow very often. Despite it being baltic, I felt in the mood for a walk and ended up walking as far as Tyninghame, sheltered for much of the way by the woods and then heading inland up a muddy track. At Tyninghame I grabbed a bus up to North Berwick where it was even colder. I got a bus into Edinburgh and headed home. It snowed as the bus headed along the M8 towards Glasgow. At least two blog posts have resulted from the Dunbar walk, namely Dunbar in the snow and Defences.

The following day Hibs played at night and I was there. It was wet, I think.

That Friday I had a Glasgow day, with two Streets of Glasgow walks. I had the notion to do a Streets walk on Firhill Road, partly because of the cool mural I had heard about at one end of Partick Thistle’s ground and also because I had featured streets near the grounds of Rangers, Celtic and Queen’s Park but not the Sizzle. The Firhill mural is excellent and I’m glad I got there. On the way across town, I decided to put Streets on hiatus, not because I don’t enjoy writing it but because I felt it was time for it to take a break. The last Streets walk was deliberately chosen, Addison Road, which is near the Botanic Gardens. It started to rain as I came the other way and I hid out in the Kibble Palace until it dried off a bit. From there I wandered up Ashton Lane and Cresswell Lane before walking into town along Woodlands Road and then Renfrew Street, which may feature in Streets when it starts up again. Owing to John Lambie’s death a couple of weeks ago, the Firhill Road Streets of Glasgow post has appeared on my football blog, Easter Road West, already. It will also appear here in sequence in a few weeks, with Addison Road appearing a week later.

The following Sunday found me out and about again though not with a great masterplan of where to go. When I was on the train into town, my eye fell on a poster advertising a Lego exhibition at Aberdour Castle in Fife, a place I like. I found myself trudging up to the bus station and then on a bus to Dunfermline, changing there for another to Aberdour. The Lego exhibition didn’t excite me a great deal as I would rather go and see places then see them represented in brick form. Aberdour is a cracking castle though with a painted ceiling and interesting gardens. It was also where the new Castle connections series was conceived – it’s since been renamed Loose ends, inspired by reading the poem ‘Scotland’ by Hugh MacDiarmid. The next post in that series will appear on Sunday 6th May. That day in Aberdour, though, I also walked down to the Forth and looked out towards Edinburgh and the Lothians.

Back to Fife the next Saturday as once more I didn’t have a grand plan. I found myself on a bus to St. Andrews though as I got closer to that fine town, I had a notion to check out a football match even though Hibs weren’t playing. My two options within distance were East Fife vs. Arbroath or Raith Rovers vs. Queen’s Park. The fact that St. Andrews was mobbed made the decision easier and I ended up on a bus out of there after a polite walk around the town streets. The bus to Leven, where I would have to change, had great views across the hills and then the Forth too as the bus came into Lundin Links and Upper Largo. I was bound for the San Starko to see Raith Rovers play Queen’s Park and I got into the Penman Stand just before kick off and in time to see Roary Rover, Raith’s mascot, dancing to Taylor Swift. Game finished 2-0, I wrote about it on ERW here. After the game I got the bus to Edinburgh, had a wander then had a very fine chippy sitting in the gardens on London Road.

That week I had an OU essay to write. It got written and I was even under the word count.

On the Friday I decided to go to Linlithgow as part of the Loose Ends series. Linlithgow Palace, like Aberdour, appeared in Outlander. It is also one of my favourite places on the planet and I was glad to wander about for an hour in the pleasant April sunshine. I had my piece sitting in the great hall. What I did which I had never done before was walk under the buttresses at the Peel side of the Palace, a new perspective on a familiar place. From Linlithgow there’s lots of connections though I decided to find another I could do that day and found myself on a train to Stirling. Stirling Castle is my favourite big castle in Scotland and it’s linked to Linlithgow by being where Mary, Queen of Scots, born in Linlithgow, was crowned. It’s also managed by Historic Environment Scotland, as is Aberdour. I was happy just to wander about Stirling, not bothering with the Stirling Heads and instead just looking out across central Scotland and beyond to some mountains.

The following day I went to watch Hibs decisively beat Celtic 2-1 on a warm sunny afternoon in Leith. After that I went for a swift walk around Morrison’s Haven, just outside Prestonpans. The sunshine was beautiful, the surroundings even finer. It was great to be there, even briefly.

The next Saturday, last Saturday, Hibs were playing Kilmarnock and I headed through a bit earlier to sit up Calton Hill to think, look and remember.

On Sunday I went to Cumbrae. We parked in Largs then got on the ferry. Millport is a very pleasant town and the sunshine just made it and the views to Ailsa Craig, Arran and Lesser Cumbrae all the more spectacular. The Cathedral of the Isles and its labyrinth were particularly interesting. I’ll write a longer post next week about it. I managed to get sunburnt, keeping up the fine tradition I have of getting burned in the most exotic places, like last year on the ferry to Arran or a few years ago at Lochleven Castle near Kinross.

So, that’s us for April. A digest for Easter Road West appeared last night over there. Easter Road West is my football blog, almost exclusively about Hibs. As well as the Firhill Streets of Glasgow post which I posted up there recently, I particularly liked writing the posts there about my first football game, after I found the programme in a shop, and also the one about autism published on World Autism Awareness Day. There’s a post there tonight about the fast approaching close season.

I try to keep up with other blogs and last night I was on the way home and read a post on FiveThirtyEight, an American politics blog, about posts they wish they had written. I think they in turn had nicked the idea from Bloomberg. In the Books post last week, I recommended Wednesday’s Child‘s post about bookmarks. Alex Cochrane’s post from the other night about Grangemouth is also worth a look. I like the way they write and their subject matter particularly, which is usually about lesser-spotted places and sights, always insightful and showing another side beyond the obvious. This Digest originated from Anabel Marsh’s monthly digest, the most recent instalment of which appeared the other day. She features a Scottish Word of the Month and included a fair few synonyms for being drunk, including my personal favourite jaked. I drop in a few Scots words here – indeed I wrote a post in Scots here not so long ago – though the only one I can share off the top of my head is ‘fleein’ which can also mean drunk.

The next post here on Walking Talking is about the Northern Irish coast and that will appear on Friday. Loose Ends appears this coming Sunday with a post about Linlithgow Palace.

As I was revising this post last night, news came that the Glasgow Women’s Library, which I visited and wrote about last year, has been nominated for the Art Fund Museum of the Year, alongside Brooklands Museum, Ferens Art Gallery, the Postal Museum and Tate St. Ives. It is brilliant that GWL are nominated for this award. GWL benefits the city and the wider world by its mere existence, let alone the fine work it does. Hope they win.

Thanks as ever to all readers, commenters and followers.

Posts this month –

Streets of Glasgow: Trongate

Some thoughts…

Digest: March 2018

Manchester and Liverpool

Streets of Glasgow: University Avenue

Dunbar in the snow


Walking across the Forth Road Bridge

Streets of Glasgow: Kelvin Way

Castle connections

Some blethers

Leith Walk the other way

Streets of Glasgow: Bath Street

Crossing the road


Streets of Glasgow: Dundas Street

Manchester and Liverpool

The travel writer Bill Bryson once wrote that he didn’t ever take a £20 note out of his wallet unless what he bought with it would be used for years. Whenever possible, I try to emulate that and that is no more true than with train tickets. Two of my favourite cities are Manchester and Liverpool, though reaching those places inevitably requires being creative with booking train tickets. It is invariably cheaper to split my journey in Preston, which is just as well since many options to get to Liverpool and Manchester involve changing there. Plus Preston station is properly old fashioned and keenly proud of its history. Changing at Preston, particularly to get to Manchester, avoids handing over as much of my hard-earned to my least favourite train company, Transpennine Express, who seem indifferent to comfort and human decency in their quest to maximise revenue in running inadequate trains. Virgin Trains aren’t perfect either – Branson runs a private healthcare firm that seems to be messing up the NHS in England, plus VT can be expensive – but they’re better than Transpennine Express.

Manchester and I have an interesting history. The last time I was there was about two years ago when I was actually studying the city’s industrial history in an OU module. I spent my 22nd birthday there, plus I heard big, dramatic news a few years later while in Manchester, standing by the lift in the Museum of Science and Industry. I can also testify from that particular day that it is very possible to source Irn-Bru in the area around MoSI.

Whenever I go, I have my regular spots. I make a point of visiting the Alan Turing memorial in the Gay Village. There are many who believe that Alan Turing was on the autism spectrum and it is in that spirit that I go to the memorial. Also nearby was a mural of I also like a wee trip along to the Lowry plus a spin on the Metrolink. Plus MoSI is excellent, with each part of the place enlightening and inspiring even for a scientific dunce like myself. The People’s History Museum is also fabulous, with the red flag flying high there, really not a bad thing. The Central Library is a stunning building, domed and coiled like an onion inside. The National Football Museum is in Manchester, not far from where the Co-op is based, and while it only has two mentions of Scottish football in the whole place, both on a panel about the architect Archibald Leitch, it is quite decent too.

Liverpool is much more like Glasgow and I like it a lot. It’s full of museums plus it has similar architecture to Glasgow, as well as a similar history looking out to the world. If time is limited, it is possible to walk just a few minutes from Lime Street and spend hours on one row between the World Museum, Liverpool Central Library and the Walker Art Gallery. The Walker Art Gallery is nicely old-fashioned with a great modern British art room right next to a bit of French Impressionism. The last time I was there, there was a massive inflatable cartoon cat on the balcony at the Walker, which was slightly mental but good. Liverpool Central Library is glorious, a mixture of modern and beautiful, old-world wood and balcony with the Picton Reading Room. The World Museum is suitably varied with loads of interesting galleries, including the World History bit upstairs which is probably the finest and most diverse outside London.

The area around the Albert Dock is also tightly packed with museums, plus the Tate which usually houses good exhibitions. Some shite too, like, as happens with modern art places. The Maritime Museum is interesting. It has some interesting exhibitions including a bit about LGBT culture which amongst other things discussed Polari. On the fifth floor of the Maritime Museum is the International Slavery Museum. Liverpool, like Glasgow, like Bristol and London too, had a lot of trade with the Americas and the Caribbean, not a little of which involved the efforts of slaves. To their credit Liverpool doesn’t shy away from talking about slavery and the International Slavery Museum is a fascinating insight into black history and the history of the slave trade. The Museum of Liverpool is also worth a look, particularly for its insight into local industries, politics and football. The closest equivalent I can think of is the People’s Palace here in Glasgow.

I haven’t been to the north of England much in the last couple of years. The last time was to Durham, at the other side of the country. I’m due a trip to Hadrian’s Wall, Carlisle and a whole lot of places, not least Liverpool and Manchester. Maybe in the close season, I might manage a few day trips down there. Writing posts like these usually makes me book train tickets so it might be sooner than May. We’ll see.


It was reported in The Herald recently that the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) are considering stopping handwritten exams in secondary schools over the next decade. SQA chief executive, Dr Janet Brown, was quoted as saying that some subjects will ‘always need’ paper exams but electronic examinations would simply reflect societal change. The teaching union, the EIS, said handwriting is still important while the Scottish Parent Teacher Council said much the same. The article, which appeared on the front page of The Herald on 8th December 2017, mentioned a SQA report from 2014, where many Higher English exam scripts were ‘near-illegible’. Making people write at speed for three hours at a time tends to do that, leaving aside anything else. For OU courses, I write exam scripts in block capitals, to give the examiners a chance.

I don’t like exams anyway, either doing them or as a part of the education system, but I think this would be progress. The fact is that very few people handwrite anything any more. Typing is faster for many people, either on a screen or a keyboard. Our thoughts go at typing speed rather than writing speed now. A comment that the Scottish Parent Teacher Council made in the article was interesting, though, about how touch typing used to be taught and ‘would be invaluable to many’. I have to differ with that. When I was at high school, I was taught touch typing and I couldn’t do it. I had to leave the class as I was getting so frustrated. To this day, I still can’t do it. I am not well-coordinated and even though I can type very fast with multiple fingers and without looking at the screen, it is hardly the way that Mavis Beacon intended me to type.

While I am typing this post, I am referring to handwritten notes I made. I write a lot and it tends to be split between stories and notes on paper and articles, essays and blog posts on my computer. With some pieces, I handwrite the first draft then type it and redraft from there, variously scribbling on a printed copy and then working from there. My handwriting isn’t brilliant. It can be spidery and illegible to some but that’s not always a bad thing. I sometimes refer to it as encryption. It remains remarkably consistent wherever I write, from buses to trains to actually sitting at a table. I’ve spent years writing leaning on a clipboard or a folder so it’s fine.

I think handwriting is actually important. It is a skill thousands of years of evolution in the making and we shouldn’t simply dismiss it in favour of technology. Even though exams are fundamentally pointless, we have to stick with them and making people write their answers out at speed by hand seems unnecessarily cruel and excessive. For exams, technology is the answer. For a lot of things, though, for creative writing, even just for the pleasure of it, by hand will still be best.

Clearing out my inbox

Whenever I see an idea that might work for my writing, I usually send myself an e-mail. Sometimes they come from Twitter or the Internet more generally. It means that my inbox gets clogged with potential ideas, some goers, others really not. A wee while ago I wrote a post which sought to get some of them out there – Commonplace inbox – and I felt it’s time to do it again. Some might still appear in a post sometime in the future, however, but I have the feeling the time might have passed for others.

Forth Bridges from Silverknowes

At the start of September, the new Queensferry Crossing opened, the third bridge across the Forth between South Queensferry in Edinburgh and Fife. It’s a stunning structure, fitting in quite well with the existing Forth Road Bridge and the mighty Forth Bridge, the one with the trains. Everybody and their granny in the Scottish press was writing about the new bridge and briefly I was going to but didn’t get round to it. One angle, covered in The Scotsman, was about how 50 years ago the Forth was traversed by a ferry, only stopped by the opening of the Forth Road Bridge.


Another potential idea was derived from a piece from The Daily Telegraph, entitled ‘Why do so few people visit Berwick-upon-Tweed?’ Since I read it, I’ve been to Berwick and I have a lot of time for the place more generally. It is a strange place, not quite Scotland, not quite England, and it has a lot of fine buildings, plus the views to the Cheviots, Bamburgh and Lindisfarne as well as out to sea. LS Lowry went there for his holidays. Plus it has a brilliant old-fashioned stationers where on my last visit I bought an OS map which got put in a black paper bag. Go to Berwick.

I also had a notion to write about the Caledonian Sleeper, the night train that runs from London to various parts of Scotland. I’ve been on it three times, from Edinburgh to London in the seats then from Glasgow to London and back in a bed, which was a fair bit more comfortable. The seated journey was memorable because I didn’t sleep at all. Get a bed, if possible. It was worth it, however, because I was then (and still am) an Open University student and at some ungodly hour I saw Milton Keynes Central out the window and waved at my university’s campus as I passed by. My preferred mode of travel to London is an early train down then the last one back, since at least I can sleep in my own bed without the juddering of wheels over train tracks.

Steve Silberman is an excellent writer, writing with insight about autism, amongst other things. I follow him on Twitter and in my inbox just now is a link he Tweeted to a TED talk with the wonderful heading: ‘Why autism is sexier than you think’. It can be, in the right context, you know. Good lighting in my case.

Sticking with Twitter, I follow the nature writer Robert Macfarlane, who has recently taken to Twitter with charming missives about words and their resonances. Much nicer than all the other miserable bollocks happening in the world right now. Two recent favourites are ‘geophany’ and ‘genius loci’, defined as an epiphany of insight about a particular place and the atmosphere and character of a particular place respectively.

Kevin McKenna writes for various newspapers including The Scottish Daily Mail (boo, hiss) and The Observer. I don’t always agree with his politics but I’m a believer you should read folk you disagree with. One of his Observer pieces that struck a chord with me was about whether Scotland’s islands are experiencing a resurgence due to tourism and infrastructure advances. I also have in my inbox just now a brilliant feature article from Susan Swarbrick in The Herald about the plane landing on the beach at Barra, something I would dearly like to see one day.

Partick Subway

I also have quite a few articles and links about this great city of Glasgow. Two relate to a Streets of Glasgow walk I would like to do but haven’t managed yet along Cumberland Street in the Gorbals, which has some interesting architecture and public art. I also have a link from the excellent History Girls about murals in Possilpark Library, which I still haven’t seen – read their blog for more details. More controversially, an article also nestles in my inbox from Friends of the Earth about air pollution on the Glasgow Subway. In the pipeline, so to speak, is an idea I’ve had to walk the length of the Subway above ground so that will be relevant for that. What might also be relevant is an article from BBC News where the owners of the bus company McGills complain that government should do more about getting folk on buses than trains. In some of that, they have a point, though as a frequent user of McGills services myself, I would humbly suggest they stop making passengers their enemy and consider giving many of its drivers customer service training plus in some cases route knowledge.

VisitScotland recently announced that they intend to close 60% of their tourist information offices across the country. There is an element of sadness in that, since folk will lose their jobs and there will be some who will lose out on information about Scotland who may not have Internet access or a phone signal, come to think of it. I myself have used their services regularly over the years, though not for a while, plundering their stocks for the occasional day trip idea or bus timetable. Their staff are always very helpful and knowledgeable so it’s a shame that VICs will be closing. Then again the iCentre in Glasgow seems to move every year which seems counter-intuitive.

I think that’s my inbox a fair bit emptier now. I’m not sure how to keep it from filling up again, maybe saving links to Facebook instead or just writing them down in my notebook. Or simply reading less but I’m quite sure that won’t catch on.

Back to studying

I haven’t written so much about my studies with the Open University recently. That is because I was on hiatus since the spring. I resumed my course in October, though, the same one I had to stop doing in March. The reason I did was due to a sudden change in my life. A positive change, since I started working full-time a couple of months after the course started. I tried to keep up with my work and my studying, doing a few very late nights to get TMAs done but by mid-March I was struggling and I looked into my options. The OU in Edinburgh have been wonderful, putting steps into place and allowing me to finish where I left off, complete with the results of the TMAs I had undertaken already still intact.

In effect, I have just two TMAs left to do, plus the exam. In practice, since I missed out a lot of work the first time, I am actually going to do the whole thing again, minus the other TMAs, working through each chapter in turn. It will help with the exam plus the course, A223 Early modern Europe, is actually very interesting and I didn’t get the chance to properly appreciate it before. I started back in the summer, reading over chapters to reacquaint myself and to build up slowly to studying properly. In fact on a recent day trip in the Borders, I sat by the river Tweed at Dryburgh Abbey (shown below), reading an OU chapter about Christianity in the 16th and 17th centuries from my tablet.

The OU course materials are pretty much all online and downloadable. I have put the course books onto all of my devices, even onto my iPhone so I can read on the way to the football, as I did on the way to Kilmarnock the other night. The printed materials still get their use, usually when writing TMAs, in my experience, when searching for a reference is invariably easier flicking through book pages than searching digitally. But digital works best for me a lot of the time since I spend a lot of my life either working or travelling.

Generally speaking, my best day to get through the work will be a Sunday, Hibs fixtures notwithstanding. I tend to be up early on a Sunday and it is also usually my best writing day. In previous OU courses, I’ve been able to work through whole chapters on a Sunday and this one it might be necessary, plus of course reading on the move.

Being an OU student sometimes requires a little bit of dedication. Some might call it masochism, studying very often when you just don’t want to, after a long day’s work or when everyone else is having fun. It is worth it for the best days, though, when a good TMA mark comes back or when writing one of those assignments and you are on a roll. Or when what you read in the course books just makes you glad you picked this subject and this way of studying. It is best achieved sitting in a comfortable chair, even if it is in transit, and there is a progression each time a course book is opened, one step closer to the end of a chapter or a block or a module or even the degree. For me, the degree isn’t an end in itself – it is something I would like, sure, but it is a means to further ends. Not least actually learning and reading interesting things, which I hope to be doing again in the coming months.

The turn of another Open University year

I am sometimes confused for being younger than I am, in looks and how I act. But I feel every one of my 27 years and more, in fact I take a sort of perverse pride in being a young fogey, having quite old music taste and just generally breaking the mould in what people expect of twentysomethings, or people generally sometimes. Often people ask what I’m studying, somehow getting a student sort of vibe off me. I am of course studying for a degree in history from the Open University but it’s not the main thing I do in my life.

Sometimes my studying gets neglected because of one thing or another. There are days when I can’t face opening my books, when getting lost in the Internet, writing or going off somewhere on a bus appeals more. Luckily, as I’ve written here before, I tend to do a lot of my best studying sitting on buses and trains. A lot of my best thoughts have come either while out walking or in transit, scribbled into a notebook. More than once, assignments have been written on the hoof, submitted on returning home.

For me, writing assignments is often a rushed process, with the process of research, planning, composition, referencing and submission done within a period of a couple of days, even a few hours when my back is really against the wall. Strangely, my last assignment, the first for my current module, A223 Early modern Europe, received the best mark I’ve ever had in a second level module and some of the best comments I’ve had ever. Yet it was written in just shy of four hours, sat right here on my bed with my laptop on my knees. Submission is usually a massive weight off my shoulders, a sense of peace and contentment rushing over me as the pile of papers and notes can go for recycling and the assignment wends its way across cyberspace into my tutor’s inbox. Often I couldn’t care less about the mark. It’s the getting it done. The mark is just a bonus, in a lot of cases.

I was like that with my last module’s final grade, which was quite a good one, let’s say. Getting the revision done and then the exam was just a huge relief, it was done and over and done with. I was confident I had passed but didn’t really care exactly what I got. The grade was a shock because I felt I hadn’t put everything I had into the module as a whole but yet I had done well. Sometimes it just comes down to that burst of work and being jammy. What the Proclaimers once described as ‘with a faith and a bit of luck, and a half-tonne bomb in the back of a truck’.

This year, I have 12 days off over Christmas and New Year. Some of them I have plans to go see the Hibs, others will naturally involve family, presents and the like. I have to have a clear out as I have too much stuff (I am not even joking – I don’t kid when I say I don’t want anything, especially books) but I hope to spend at least a day or two catching up with A223 and getting myself up to speed for the New Year. The course calendar generously specifies this week and next week as the Christmas break but I will quietly ignore that. I plan to relax and read and reduce my formidable to-read pile but studying is a major priority. I honestly enjoy studying and get a lot of satisfaction from it. I just need to structure it into my life better. But then again my studying successes this year have come from keeping my back against the wall so I may have to be careful about being too good.

2016 has been a good year for me personally, if not so much for the world. Two of the four major things I wanted to happen in my life in its current phase have happened, one in the last couple of days, the other on 21st May, plus my family has grown too. 2017 will hopefully see me put one of those major things into practice and also finish this OU module. Next September I will hopefully embark on a level 3 module, the first of two that will lead me to a degree, with any luck just prior to my 30th birthday in 2019. In the meantime, though, there is some solid work to be done first, a few more rushed TMAs and hopefully some shocks at what I can achieve when I have a hard deadline heavily on my horizon, with more than a few good intentions to work more consistently while I’m at it.

Update – I had to defer A223 due to life pressures. As of June 2018, I am finally finishing the module with the exam in a couple of days. Lots of religion and gender history being revised right now. The plan is a year behind but hopefully it should still happen in the end.


Not far from Dunbar is the Torness nuclear power station. It is a major employer in the local area and a landmark for all those passing on the A1 or the railway so they know they are edging closer to home. Torness, to be fair, is not bonny; it is a grey boxy building devoid of much charm. Plus it is a nuclear power station so environmental considerations outweigh the architectural merits of the place. Those who live nearby are issued with special tablets in case everything goes wrong and the Civil Nuclear Constabulary patrol the local area, as they were the other day when we went to Dunglass Collegiate Church, about 3 miles away on the border between East Lothian and the Scottish Borders. Dunglass had long been on my list and en route to Northumberland, we stopped in for a wee look on a mild December morning.


Dunglass Collegiate Church is a fine looking church, sitting on a hill in the Dunglass estate with a view down to the sea at Thorntonloch and of course to Torness too. It is ruined now, roofed but open to the elements, used as a barn at one point and before that as a burial place and chapel for the Hall and Hume families. At the time, I was trying to write an essay for my OU course about the nobility in early modern Europe (now thankfully resolved and submitted) and imagined the noble families using this place as their own private sanctuary in life and in death too.

Of particular interest were two monuments in the south transept, one to Lady Helen Hall, 1762-1837, whose ‘powerful mental qualifications and accomplishments rendered her a conspicuous member of her time’, and the other to her husband Sir James Hall, who had a particular interest in geology, significant in the area due to Siccar Point being nearby, one of Hutton’s Uncomformaties, which helped to define how we understand the earth’s makeup today.

We didn’t linger long though it definitely merits a longer visit on a warmer and brighter day, perhaps to sit with a book and to look out to sea and to appreciate the light’s effect on the grey, sandstone walls of the church. The closest similar place I know is Seton Collegiate Church, between Port Seton and Longniddry, which I last visited about five or six years ago and where I sat on a hot summer’s day with a copy of Jules Verne’s Around The World In Eighty Days in hand, reading and basking in my surroundings. Dunglass will definitely be on my list for next year, perhaps combined with a walk down into Bilsdean Glen with its fine waterfall and maybe even a walk along the John Muir Link past Torness towards Skateraw, Barns Ness and eventually Dunbar. In the meantime, I am glad to have gotten there, even on the way somewhere else.

Writing on the train

There has been a minor stooshie this week relating to the musical Hamilton, which is currently playing on the Broadway in New York. One performance saw the Vice President-elect of the United States, Mike Pence, turn up and be booed by the audience. He was also, wonderfully, addressed from the stage during the curtain call about the threats to diversity and, well, pretty much everyone and everything by a Trump presidency.

Hamilton was created by someone called Lin-Manuel Miranda. To be honest, I hadn’t heard of him until quite recently though I gather he had performed up a storm at either the Grammys or the Tonys ceremony earlier in the year. He was interviewed in the Observer this past weekend and the end of the article focused on how his life has not changed greatly because of his fame and good fortune.

‘Of the financial windfall, Miranda downplays it. “I bought myself time to write,” he says. Miranda still lives near his old neighbourhood, he still hangs out with the same high school and college crew, he still takes the subway. “I’ve written too much good shit on the train to not be able to take it,” he says.’

Now, that’s my kind of writer. I have filled just shy of 200 posts on this blog with tales of travelling up and down this great land and a fair whack of them were written on the hoof, either from my phone or scribbled into a notebook. My short-term memory isn’t wonderful so I prefer to get as many of my impressions down as quickly as I can before I forget. I do try to make what I write as good as it can be, amazingly, and details are key to making that happen. I have memories of at least two day trips this year when I sat on the train coasting northwards writing the accompanying blog post. The words often just flow and I get quite a buzz from reliving the day like that as I put it all down on paper.

I find it hard to force myself to sit on my arse and work, either to write or study. Over the years, however, I have found that I concentrate quite well on the move and therefore a lot of my OU career progress has happened on buses and trains, with a tablet in one hand and the fingers of the other scrolling from page to page. The OU publishes most of its course materials in PDF format so they are exceedingly portable and I can combine travelling, which I love, with studying, which is very important to my future plans and self-worth.

The 200th post on this blog will appear soon – this is post 196. It features a quote I saw on a wall in Leith earlier this year, which reads ‘The things I love are not at home’. I can concentrate to write at home but not so much to study or to write in a more creative way. It’s almost as if I need distractions to get the job done, to have the added layers of what’s passing by and the fellow passengers and their foibles to go along with whatever I am trying to do. Lin-Manuel Miranda said that he had ‘written too much good shit on the train to not be able to take it’. Apparently to concentrate properly, to adequately function and meet my obligations, to do what I love and enjoy, I need to sit on trains and buses.

It’s always been more than just going to the place for me. I like travelling because of the journey, sometimes more than reaching the destination. I wrote before about bus philosophy, the wider, wilder thoughts some folks have sitting staring out of the window on buses. I think best with some distance, either looking far off as by the sea or with physical separation from my life’s normal happenings. Of course I can’t spend all day, every day on buses: I have to earn the money to do that and it doesn’t come from sitting writing and thinking grand thoughts, not right now anyway. But it gives me perspective and luckily, like Lin-Manuel Miranda, quite a few good ideas have come while I have been travelling and even while it isn’t quite orthodox as a working model, it works for me.