Loose Ends: Linlithgow Palace

From Aberdour there were a whole load of places I could have gone. I strongly considered Glasgow Cathedral, not only because I live in Glasgow and can reach the Cathedral in well under an hour from the house, though I decided I would try and get back there and decided on another place used as a setting in Outlander, Linlithgow Palace. It helped that I was overdue a visit and each time I passed on the train, I thought ‘I should go’. One Friday recently I did just that, rocking up there on a pleasant spring afternoon. As I walked up the hill, I gazed towards the gatehouse with the crests of four orders held by James V, the Order of the Thistle a possible connection with the High Kirk of St. Giles in Edinburgh. I walked around the side of the Palace. Every time I go, I always see something new. This time it was the buttresses on the eastern side of the Palace for I hadn’t ever walked under them before. That was swiftly remedied and I appreciated the new angle of the Palace from underneath. I also paid close attention to the angles and details of the exterior as I walked.

I headed on in and then downstairs first. I usually do each level of the Palace in turn, picking a corner and circling around. This time I fancied going down first, soon ending up in the kitchen downstairs, a possible link to the similarly big court kitchen at Dirleton Castle. I walked upstairs and around the Palace, stopping to eat my sandwich in the Great Hall, albeit in one of the big windows rather than at a banquet table set for the great and good. The bit of wind gave me an unusual sense of vertigo as I climbed the tallest tower, looking right out over West Lothian towards Falkirk on one side and the Forth Bridges on another.

Linlithgow and I have many personal connections too. I went there for camp when I was at primary school, once orienteering around the Peel in the snow and ice. I’ve been there with family and friends. I remember one time being there and my companion complaining of the many, many stairs. I wasn’t too sympathetic, as I recall. I’ve often said that Linlithgow is like Dunbar but with better train links. Linlithgow High Street has a few independent shops but less than Dunbar, the local bakers now shut too sadly.

Despite the connections to Dunbar, Dirleton, Edinburgh and the Forth Bridges, I decided to go next to Stirling, handily reachable in under an hour so I could do two that day. Mary, Queen of Scots was born in Linlithgow. I thought her father, James V, was born in Stirling, though I’ve since discovered he was born in Linlithgow Palace too. No matter, for Mary was crowned in Stirling, as was her father who also developed the Castle. It was Stirling for the next trip, which follows here in two weeks time.

This is the second post in the Loose Ends series here on Walking Talking. The first was Aberdour Castle and the third Stirling Castle, which appears here in two weeks time.

Next Sunday there will be a Streets of Glasgow post which is Waterloo Street.

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Some blethers

Barns Ness lighthouse

I sometimes go through fits and starts when I don’t write a lot. Also, there can be times when there’s a lot of things that I should post about but I can’t be bothered posting a whole bunch. Both of these are happening at the moment. So, our agenda tonight consists of three items: Rebel, World Autism Awareness Week and some thoughts about stars. I’ll start with Rebel. Rebel is a Scottish Book Trust writing initiative for this year’s Book Week Scotland, which will take place in November. As regular readers of this blog may remember, I had a piece published in last year’s Book Week Scotland anthology, on the subject of ‘Nourish’ featuring a steak bridie and a seagull. Rebel is this year’s competition. It opened on Wednesday and closes at midnight on 6th June. Pieces can be in pretty much any form you like and in any of Scotland’s languages, as long as they are 1,000 words or less and it is also true. Entrants have to be Scottish residents, though, and unpublished. For more details, please see the Scottish Book Trust website. SBT are nice people and so please do support them. A piece I’ve written, which is called ‘Rebel’ and is about not having seen any popular TV programme or film you care to name, is on the SBT website too. I wrote it in January and I still haven’t seen Game of Thrones.

Lammermuir Hills

Second thing is World Autism Awareness Week, which is this week. World Autism Awareness Day is this coming Monday, Easter Monday. I don’t have anything new to post about autism this week, though many, many others will have written about autism and Asperger’s this week and you should check them out. If you are a fellow WordPress blogger, just search ‘autism’ in your WordPress reader or Feedly. Wherever you read online, you should find something good. Autism is a blessing and a curse at times. World Autism Awareness Week will make more people aware of autism and that certainly isn’t a bad thing.

Trongate, Glasgow

Normal service will be resumed on Sunday with a Streets of Glasgow post, this time Trongate. The March digest will follow next week. Easter Road West will have a new post tomorrow morning, which is about sticker books and The Pink. Last week’s was about goalkeepers. I will leave you with a few words about stars.

One of the things that I miss about living in Dunbar is the fact I don’t see stars. I live in Glasgow and there’s too many street lights most of the time to be able to see much of anything in the night sky beyond the moon and plane tail lights. The other night I was coming home from a day in the east. I was walking from the station along the street to my house when I happened to look up. It had been a mostly bright, only marginally cloudy day and the sky was clear and dark. Except I could really, genuinely see stars. Only one or two, not whole constellations, but I could see stars in the big city. I couldn’t help smiling, reminded as ever of those things bigger than ourselves and the world humanity has built, atoms, molecules, protons, worlds beyond our ken. Even in the big city, there’s always a world beyond.

Gazing across a map

If I am running a little late in the morning on the way to work, I usually have to walk a wee bit further to get a bus, to the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, to be precise, about a mile from the house. The QEUH is served by a lot of buses, with no fewer than four bus stops outside the main entrance of the hospital where it is possible to get a bus across most of the west of Scotland. On each of the bus stops is a map, produced by SPT and NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, which shows where the buses all go. It is sort-of like a circuit diagram, vaguely paying attention to geography but more focused on clarity and concision, much like the London Underground map. Now and then I look at it and trace out bus routes I have covered in the city, usually realising I’ve been to most of them over the last few years. I still harbour the notion of going on the 90 or the 3 around the city but I would probably have to pack enough provisions for an assault on Everest.

I like maps, particularly schematics like the bus or Tube maps. I get lost in them for a while, planning future adventures and reliving old ones. Very often working out ideas is as good as the actual experience itself.

I was looking at the Edinburgh bus map earlier and it has become significantly more complicated in recent years with Lothian taking over lots of new routes plus the addition of the trams. It is an absolute mess. Strangely it is actually easier to navigate the capital’s public transport network in person than figuring it out with the map, even with Leith Street being shut and the roadworks at Haymarket. Edinburgh is a wonderful city but it is an absolute nightmare if you desire a simple life.

The London Underground map is rightly a design classic and Transport for London have capitalised on that, putting it on duvets, wrapping paper and notebooks, amongst many other things. I sincerely hope there isn’t London Underground map underwear or condoms or something. (Having just looked up the London Transport Museum shop online, they actually do sell London Underground map-themed boxer shorts, for the mildly reasonable sum of £8.99. They don’t sell condoms, yet.) Anyway, I don’t visit London that often but when I do, I usually use the Tube to get around, not least because it is supremely logical and the stations often have a lot of character architecturally. Looking at the map just now, I seem to have been on quite a few of the Underground’s various lines, including the Northern line when I made a special pilgrimage to Mornington Crescent. I wrote about that a wee while ago here. I don’t think I’ll ever get round them all but it’s nice thinking about it all the same.

Mornington Crescent

A schematic map doesn’t need to be strictly accurate, as long as it makes sense. The whole process of planning an adventure, particularly the best adventure, involves a bit of order but a whole lot of not being exact and just plain winging it. When I want to plan an adventure, I invariably have to be somewhere else but the planning is always worth it, even if I won’t actually get to set sail in the other direction that day, that month or even that year. One day it will happen, even if it is just in my mind as I gaze across the map.

Handwriting

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.

A day trip experience

When I realised Valentine’s Day fell on a Wednesday this year, I thought about how to mark it. I looked through my photos and quite seriously considered using a photo I took last year at Seton Collegiate Church of a compost heap to write about manure, neatly summing up my view of 14th February. It’s shown below. Instead, I’ve got this.

A few weeks ago, I managed to delete photos from quite a few posts on the blog. I had to go through every single one of around 370 posts to edit, add or delete accordingly. This gave me the opportunity to read some of the posts back, particularly some of the earlier ones. I found this one which I really liked. It is still one of the most personal posts I’ve written here but one that still rings true. Thankfully I am much less lonely than I was even when I wrote this two years ago. It’s called ‘Day tripping‘:

There is one part of the day trip experience I haven’t covered yet. It is an exceedingly difficult one to write about, however, but I feel it might be time to cover it here. I apologise that it is a slightly more personal post than normal, covering more emotional and difficult terrain.

Being autistic is quite a lonely business. People on the autistic spectrum aren’t known for having fabulous social skills. Making friends is not something I find very easy. I wish I did. I have somehow become a social person. I work and I am told I am an outgoing person, good at being with people. But making friends and building relationships is very difficult for me and it still remains. Even though I can look at people in the eye now, and I can even sometimes charm people and people like me, it is not easy to do. At times I can be lonely. Less so than I have been for a very long time. But it still remains.

I have been going on day trips for eight years, since a friendship ended. I used to go on day trips with him. Then I found myself with a free Saturday and I ended up going away myself. Then I did it again and again. My travels became a topic of conversation and informed my work. Many people now think of me because of my day trips. It’s ironic because what I first did due to being lonely connects me with the world now. The subject of this blog stems from these experiences I have had mostly on my own, sitting on buses and trains across this country, watching the world go by and spending a lot of time entirely on my own.

On some day trips, I used to feel very lonely and long for someone else to be with, to talk to and so not to have to make all the decisions myself. I walked or I visited places rather than sit in my room on my own. The worst day trips were always in the summer, when more people were around, couples, families and there I was, on my own and feeling it.

That’s much less of an issue now. I live a very active life. I still don’t have many friends, I still don’t have a relationship, but I spend a lot of my life with people. And that’s good. It’s not perfect but it’s my life and I’m not so lonely now. And my day trips are rarer but I often look forward to them for the escape, to actually be on my own for 10 or 12 hours, just to think, read and be in my own company. I went on holiday in October on my own. I had a great time. I talked to some people but spent most of the time on my own.

I once wanted to advertise for a day trip companion. I wasn’t sure where to do that or what kind of person I was looking for. A person of a like mind, maybe, someone I could share a conversation with and wasn’t shy of making the decisions. I am not sure I want one any more. If more people appear in my life, then in the words of Roger Deakin, I don’t want to have to cultivate them. A day trip companion can be other things too. The world cannot be compartmentalised and neither would I want it to be.

I have made some sort of peace with myself. I am not an extrovert. I am a reader and a writer. I am an introvert who manages to be outgoing when I need to. I don’t always want to. That’s fine. Sometimes I simply can’t. That’s fine too. One of the finest things about being on your own is that you don’t have to share. I can amuse myself quite happily. I make myself laugh, which is hard to conceal at times, and I think a lot. The best experiences I have had on day trips have been on my own, as have many of the best places I have discovered.

One of the earliest was my first trip to Durham, a place I have visited many times since, not always alone. Across the room now is an old railway poster showing the Cathedral towering high above the River Wear. The Cathedral is one of my favourite buildings on the Earth, despite my lack of religious belief. I feel at peace there, feeling a deep sense of connection and joy there, with the combination of magnificent architecture and beauty in that ancient place. My first visit was one morning in May. As I walked around the Cathedral, I think near the Crossing, heading towards the Chapel of the Nine Altars, I felt something that had eluded me for quite a while, that things were going to be okay after all. I used to go to that magnificent place and try to sort my life out. The last time I was there, last summer, I didn’t have to bother.

Created with Nokia Smart Cam
Durham. One of the best views in the world.

Not having to share also helps in choosing what to do. Instead of compromising, I can be entirely autocratic and follow my impulses. I doubt that if I had been with someone else, I would have decided to cross the country on a whim or ended up in Aberdeen instead of Dundee or York instead of Newcastle, to name but two examples.

There is a significant difference between being alone and being lonely. You can be both or one or the other. Or neither. I have known both, often at the same time, often far from home. But I have become the person I am because of spending time on my own. I write because of being on my own. I read and I know what I know because of being on my own. Making the best of it. It takes time but fundamentally I am confident. In the meantime, I will plan the next day trip around my busy life and see where it takes me.

Incidentally, there’s a new post tonight on my other blog, Easter Road West, about why watching a football game in person is far superior to catching it on the TV.

Going underground

Glasgow has a Subway. It runs in two loops around the city and for a while I used it daily on my commute. Now I tend to be on it maybe once a month. It’s not always the most pleasant experience. It’s loud and screechy, playing havoc with my particular blend of sensory sensitivities. At some point I hope to do a walk around the Subway on the surface – I did a test walk from Buchanan Street to Bridge Street recently and still need to write it up – and that should be much better.

Strangely, though, I actually prefer the London Underground to the Subway. Not when it is mentally busy, mind, but as an experience the Tube wins. It is a bigger system, the trains themselves are quieter and it is well organised. When I was in London recently, I made four journeys:

  • Holborn to South Kensington – Piccadilly line
  • Marble Arch to St. Paul’s – Central line
  • Westminster to Embankment – Circle line
  • Embankment to Euston – Northern line

The trick I’ve found with the Underground is taking it slow and looking around to make sure I’m going in the right direction, if necessary checking and re-checking posters. I tend to take the right side of escalators in order to pace myself. This is natural since the Tube is not a part of my everyday life.

I also like the Tube because each station is different in architecture and design. The Glasgow Subway is mostly uniform save for some art pieces in a few of the stations like Kelvinhall and Hillhead. The London Underground is piecemeal and inconsistent and I like that. It is the product of different companies running the show over time and their different priorities.

At one point when I was in London recently, possibly on the train from Embankment to Euston, I sat back and thought about where I was and how I got there. I was just in the moment, I was on the London Underground, one of the busiest transport systems in the world in one of the busiest cities in the world. I felt fine. I was glad to be there, feeling confident in myself and my ability to navigate it.

Streets as obstacle courses

Buchanan Street, Glasgow

Being autistic has its moments. Sometimes it has its advantages, other times it can be an absolute bastard, to use a technical term. A lot of my life can be about keeping on an even keel, not getting too overwhelmed or indeed too underwhelmed, as sometimes happens. Some of the most difficult moments can be just walking along the street, trying to figure out a route along the pavement, weaving between people and other obstacles. Sometimes I get it right, other times very much wrong. When in doubt, I tend to walk around people and things, usually at a wee bit of speed as I walk a bit fast. I do that naturally, though, despite now and then just feeling uncomfortable and wanting to get through the city as fast as I can.

An example of a particularly difficult time was quite recently. I was doing a couple of bits of business in Glasgow city centre one Saturday lunchtime before heading for the football in Edinburgh. To get between the bank and Queen Street Station required walking up Buchanan Street. On a Saturday afternoon. In the space of a few hundred yards I not only had to get through a crowd of people but also to duck and weave between charity muggers, communists, performance artists, leafleters and poppy sellers, as well as a choir singing Christmas carols in early November. Of those, the least objectionable were, remarkably, the communists. I took off at top speed, deploying my very best negative body language, and soon reached my train. I just concentrated on moving through all the people, though I also took out a pen which I kept in my hand and clicked for the part between St. Vincent Street and West George Street. I landed in a seat on the Edinburgh train and breathed a deep sigh of relief.

Walking along the street involves very quick decision-making, usually with a mix of instinct and systematic choices. I try to keep my head up but I am usually looking around for gaps in people so I can get through. I usually yield to others, even when I don’t really have to. Being quite polite and also walking fast tends to make that the most pragmatic approach.

In an ideal world, I would simply travel at times which are quieter. Or have crowds part like Moses parting the Red Sea as I approached. I lack that power. That’s probably for the best, to be honest. Sometimes I just have to get on with it, making my way through, around or occasionally over. Being autistic does have its moments. As well as making getting through cities difficult, though, it also gives me the sense of curiosity that makes me walk down streets on quieter days looking at architecture. There’s always a reason I’m there, just as there are thousands of reasons other people have chosen to be there at the same time, and we end up co-existing, albeit, thankfully, briefly.

Role models

I learned long ago that I’m not like most people. More recently, I made peace with that. All of the labels that can be attached to me, though, link me to other people. I’m a Hibs fan and a library assistant, a blogger and I like Chinese food and stovies. I like to walk and talk. I’m a member of both a gym and Amnesty International. I’m autistic and sometimes anxious. That’s off the top of my head.

I admire quite a few people. To take the first three labels, I admire Darren McGregor, who plays for Hibs, who has a good attitude towards life, fitness and of course the Hibs. I have been lucky to work with many good people in libraries, one or two of whom I look up to and aspire to being. There are lots of good bloggers too. Some of them even read this blog, remarkably.

Autistic people are more prominent in society than ever before. Two who are often in the media are Chris Packham, the naturalist and broadcaster, and Anne Hegerty, the Governess off The Chase. Chris Packham presented a BBC documentary at the end of last year called ‘Asperger’s And Me’, variously moving, funny and sweet, an insight into his life and autism more generally. What he wrote after the documentary came out is worth a read too. I’ve been meaning to read his memoir Fingers In The Sparkle Jar for ages and I have it sitting at work to read during breaks. I heard Anne Hegerty talk on a podcast recently and she came across very well. One bit that struck home was how she talked about needing time away from people now and then. I do a people-facing job and despite liking people, I also enjoy my own company too. It is necessary for survival too. Anne Hegerty is also on my favourite quiz show and the combination of quiz questions and smart people makes me happy. Knowing things should be celebrated and cherished, not dismissed as obsolete and unnecessary.

I’ve always believed that we should celebrate people when they’re alive. Funerals and obituaries are great but too late. Just tonight, I read the obituary of Jim Baikie, a comic artist from Hoy, Orkney who was involved in comic strips and worked for DC. He sounds like quite a guy. The Guardian publishes obits of people who maybe aren’t so well known. That’s great but I would like it if the papers published articles in praise of ordinary punters off the street. The New Year’s Honours list was published recently and while I disagree with the honours system for many reasons, I would rather read about those many deserving people garlanded for working in their communities than the latest Tory MP or arms dealer given a knighthood. To take but three examples from the most recent list, David Duke, the founder of Street Soccer Scotland, a charity which seeks to help homeless people gain skills and get involved in sport, got an MBE while Helen Morton was awarded the British Empire Medal for volunteering on Childline. The Church of Scotland minister Iain Torrance got a knighthood for services to higher education and theology, more specifically for chairing the Kirk’s Theological Forum investigating homophobia.

When I was a teenager, I read The Catcher In The Rye by JD Salinger. I suspect I’m not alone in that. One passage that I liked was one early on when Holden talked about wanting to be able to contact one’s favourite authors to talk about their books. I’ve met a few authors or been in the same airspace as a few more and I tend to get star struck. Despite believing that ‘rank is but the guinea’s stamp’ and that everyone is equal, people who write things and have books on actual shelves are on a pedestal for me, as are people who help homeless people get their lives on track, fight homophobia and help children in their darkest times, not to mention Chris Packham and Anne Hegerty. Plus Darren McGregor, since he’s a class defender and never gives the ball away. People are good, for the most part.

Durham Cathedral

I know very few things. One of them is that good days should be cherished for who knows quite when you will need to remember them and hold them close. I am fortunate that I’ve had many good days in my life. About ten years ago, I was having a bit of a tough time. One Friday afternoon, with the next day free and no earthly idea of how to fill it, I was sitting just by the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, in fact in the close that looks onto the MSPs offices, the ones with the thinking pods in the windows. I was thinking of one of my favourite books, Notes From A Small Island by Bill Bryson, and in particular the section about Durham. Bryson raved about Durham and I hadn’t been before. I thought and I marched straight up to Waverley Station to book a ticket. The next day, I was on the train, just about to get off, and I got my first glimpse of that Cathedral on the hill. I walked right up to it and straight in. On that bright May morning, I walked around the Cathedral, looking up at its ceilings, down at its marble floor, and I realised that things were going to be okay. They were, as it turns out. Ever since, Durham has been very special to me. I don’t get there as often as I used to; geography mostly to blame. Nearly a decade on, I can’t help feeling the same peace as I did then.

I am not religious. If I am anything, I prefer to be like Norman MacCaig and be a Zen Calvinist. Durham Cathedral is one of the most significant churches in the Church of England, not natural Zen Calvinist territory by any measure. It is certainty when the world, the universe and everything else is everything but. Maybe that’s why I like to go there and think. I’ve sat there in wooden pews and come away with grand plans to sort out my life, even if they don’t actually pan out the way I intended. These days, I’m happy just to think and to look. If I come away with any clarity, I’ve got lucky. When I was there recently, my abiding thought was that my backside was square and I couldn’t sit there any longer. So, I moved.

The Cathedral is a place which needs to be appreciated in different ways. On foot, on the move, it needs a couple of circuits to see the familiar haunts, to look and down at the right moments, the right windows and plaques, the zig-zags and pillars. Then I sit. Often for a while. Then I walk around again. I make sure I see St. Cuthbert’s Shrine, thinking of how he preferred the waves and solitude of Lindisfarne to more refined cares. I usually stop by the tomb of the Venerable Bede and think of the line I read in a book by Alan Bennett once, sung by Dame Maggie Smith in revue about how the Venerable Bede could hardly spell and barely read. Sometimes, like when I was last there, I sit in the cloisters, the only bit I take a photo in deference to the big signs, and think of Harry Potter, scenes of which were filmed there. I’m not awaiting my Hogwarts letter, it would just be nice to visit.

When I was last in the Cathedral, I was talking about the Battle of Dunbar, when the victorious Cromwellian forces marched 3,000 prisoners to Durham, some destined to die within its walls, others executed while some were transported to America as slaves. There’s a plaque in the Chapel of the Nine Altars. Nearby is my favourite window, the one dedicated to Archbishop Ramsey, the Transfiguration Window, brown with a shaft of light in the middle. I always like to find the sweet, self-reverential touch where the Cathedral appears in the window. The Millennium Window nearby, more modern with its images of northeastern life, reflects its colours on the stone on sunny days, like the ceiling above the nave where the light shines in on its curves.

As I said, I’ve been fortunate to have many bright days. Durham has factored in quite a few of them, like when I was there during the Lumiere Festival a few years back and images from the Lindisfarne Gospels were projected on the walls. Or when I was there during a heatwave at the end of March, walking by the river in shorts. I never fail to thrill at the sight of the Cathedral as I approach, even if lately I’ve come by road, which is almost as good. It’s the best building on Earth and I’m just glad I’ve been, on cold winter days and long summer ones, in all moods and hues, to sit under its ceiling and admire it, admire the world around, really, and live life just a wee bit brighter from having been there.

The turn of the year

Yes, it’s December. The lights are up, the adverts are on, the end of the year is in sight. The daylight is brief but vivid. The night lights are garish. At the moment, it’s cold, bracing and just plain baltic. The leaves are on the pavements and yet autumn is behind us. Winter is upon us.

I find this time of year difficult. I like natural light and the fact we have had cold, bright days recently helps me get over that it’s dark before ‘The Chase’ comes on. I also heartily dislike the Christmas build-up. I like the day, the time off is wonderful. I don’t like that it starts earlier and earlier. Plus the forced jollity. Plus the lights and the loudness. I was stood, thankfully in daylight, by the Edinburgh Christmas extravaganza in Princes Street Gardens for a few minutes the other day and it was bad enough. The cheesy 80s pop music being pumped out the speakers was possibly in breach of the Geneva Convention. This time of year is hard for a great many people. It’s a time for reflection as the year slows down and it can be about what we don’t have rather than what we do. The newspapers last Friday had a statistic about how 60,000 older people in Scotland will spend Christmas on their own. Too many people are lonely in our society. There will be many people just wishing for January. I’m definitely one of them.

This year I have almost a fortnight off. Last year I managed a couple of day trips over the time and greatly enjoyed the quieter buses and trains. A few years ago, I even went to Dublin right at the very start of January before I went back to work. This year the football fixture list has plonked three Hibs games between Saturday 23rd December and Saturday 30th December. Between those I hope just to sleep, read, write, spend time with my family. I am genuinely indifferent to presents – I also have far more stuff than I actually need – so I will enjoy other people’s instead, since as ever you can’t buy inner peace or world peace. A freezing cold day in North Berwick, which I enjoyed last year, or a trip anywhere else is worth more to me than anything you can wrap up in paper, in any case.

December is the end of the year. A new year will begin soon. As we look back, it’s nice to look forward too, resting up for the new adventures that will soon ensue. The piercing blue of the sky this time of year is enough light for me, never mind all the bulbs and LEDs.

Further reading –

The Humanist Society of Scotland publish a very good newsletter called Humanitie and they have an article in the current issue about how humanists celebrate Christmas. On the website, they illustrate the article with one of the ways I like to celebrate the festives, the wonderful ‘Muppet Christmas Carol’. Here’s a link – https://www.humanism.scot/what-we-do/humanitie/humanists-celebrate-christmas/