Digest: September 2017

View from Portobello to East Lothian
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.

Dan McMichael’s grave in the Eastern Cemetery, Edinburgh
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.

Arandora Star garden, Glasgow

Provan Hall
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.

Royal Scottish Academy
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.

Govan ferry

Dunsapie

National Museum of Scotland

Millennium Clock, National Museum of Scotland

National Museum of Scotland
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.

Glasgow Cross
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 –

Morrison’s Haven

Walk this way

Cardonald

Membership

When you’ve written better before

Names

My favourite beach: Belhaven

Reading more often

Brougham Castle

Glasgow vs. Edinburgh

Make it rain

Signposts

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Fidget

Hello,

I am currently on a week’s leave so rather than go through a hiatus like I did in August, I thought I would share a few older posts from the blog archive, beginning with this one, about fidget toys. Since I wrote this one, a fidget spinner was left at my work and I can be found playing with it on occasion. Still doesn’t beat a pen, though.

The next three posts, appearing on Wednesday, Friday and a week from now, will be about a walk in a dear, perpetual place, murals in Paisley and an urban ramble. Suitably varied, I’m sure you’ll agree.

As befits someone who spends a lot of life writing, I carry at least two pens at pretty much all times. Of course this is also useful when I am working since libraries never have a functioning pen when one is so required. They are also useful for when I need to find what the scientists call local coherence, or in other words when I feel slightly awkward or overwhelmed and need to focus on something else. Just yesterday I was at a social gathering and I took out a pen, just for a second, and pressed its top, open and close, just once. It didn’t involve much conscious thought and it was all done in a matter of moments. I even do it sometimes walking along the street. I used to get told off before going to job interviews for always having a pen in my hand. But then again not having a pen in my hand might have led to Donald Trump-esque hand gestures to emphasise whatever points I was trying to make so there’s always an argument to be made on both sides.

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Pens
It’s why I just laugh when I see kids with the latest in-thing, fidget toys. I’m autistic. I’m the king of fidget toys. At various points, I’ve experimented with figurines of Wallace (from Wallace and Gromit), keyrings, S-loops that are used to hang paintings and elastic bands. Indeed I went to the gym recently with an elastic band still around my wrist from work. Fidget toys are interesting looking, sort of like a safety protector for a plug socket but flat. I have seen shops around the place with signs saying ‘Fidget Toys Sold Here’ and it makes me grin broadly each and every time.

It’s strange seeing the world slowly come round to one’s way of thinking. At the moment designer stubble is fashionable. Shaving too often bothers my skin so I inadvertently keep to that particular trend. A wee while ago, ‘geek chic’ was all the rage. I’ve had glasses since I was 10 and I don’t dress like David Gandy anyway. Or look like him or any other male model. That wasn’t a problem either. When I joined Facebook a few months ago, I found that people I went to school with spent their weekends with their families going around castles. Castlebagging is a real term to describe this thoroughly intellectually and spiritually enriching pursuit. It was written about in the papers a few years back and at the time I felt momentarily irritated at the thought of carpetbaggers filling up good castles when I had some of them to myself for years.

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Castle. This one is Warkworth, in Northumberland
Recently the (very worth reading) Anonymously Autistic blogger shared a link on Twitter to a Kickstarter for something called a Fidgi Pen, or a fidget toy disguised as a pen. I didn’t know there was funding available. I just buy pens and they do the business. As I was thinking of what to write next just now, I played about with a Berol Handwriting pen that I bought in a pack of three from the supermarket for a couple of pounds. No disguise required.

It isn’t always easy to know when you fit in. I am 27 now and I have reached a point when I somehow function in society just fine. I wear clothes for comfort rather than fashion. My glasses were expensive but that’s because I need them to see. I wear Skechers shoes (as written about here – other shoes are available) because they are comfortable and don’t hurt my feet. I generally do okay with people. I am not that confident but that’s okay. Indeed with some people that makes the situation more bearable. In society more generally, the fact that fidget toys are popular with neurotypical bairns can only be welcome. We can only hope that the world changes ever more to embrace our unique way of thinking, rather than just tolerate or accommodate it.

In praise of being alone

Sometimes I am inspired to write posts by what I read. The other morning, I was catching up with a couple of months’ worth of entries from Notes From Walnut Tree Farm by Roger Deakin and came across one of the many cracking, succinctly-phrased lines from that magnificent volume:

‘Every now and again you find yourself slipping into a little pocket, a little envelope, of country that is unknown to anyone else, which feels as though it is your own secret land’.

Connections sometimes emerge between different things I read and what I have read previously. One of my favourite poems is ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’ by W.B. Yeats and Roger’s words about secret lands remind me about that isle, being alone in a bee-loud glade and peace dropping slow. Then it occurred to me that Nan Shepherd had written in a similar vein in The Living Mountain, the book that rivals Notes From Walnut Tree Farm in being what I would take to a desert island. Nan Shepherd writes about a particular loch high in the Cairngorms and writes that its ‘inaccessibility…is part of its power…It is necessary to be sometimes exclusive, not on behalf of rank or wealth, but of those human qualities that can apprehend loneliness’.

I am not a mountain climber. One day I would like to but it hasn’t happened yet. The last time I was in a place and felt I was in a secret land was when I was walking in the John Muir Country Park near Dunbar a month or two ago. I was amidst the trees and was back in the midst of my childhood, feeling entirely at peace in this place. Being alone there wasn’t a bad thing because I could think free about my time there long ago without being confined by words or sharing the experience with someone else. I spend a lot of my life putting things into words but sometimes there’s times when words aren’t needed. John Muir wrote once that ‘writing is a cold medium for heart-hot ideas’ and it’s true a lot of the time. Putting this idea into words has been harder than thinking it but that’s true most of the time, I think. Hedderwick isn’t a secret place. It’s near the A1 and many people walk there every single day. Some kids had a party to celebrate their exams finishing the other week. There is still a resonance and meaning there that is unique to me, for no one else has my particular set of life experiences and filters to see them through. It still felt like a secret land, particularly for much of the time I was there when I was alone with my thoughts in the dunes between the trees.

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There is a major difference between being lonely and being alone. I have known both. Being with someone else doesn’t mean you can’t fully appreciate a particular place. Indeed a shared thought can build a better insight. Being alone helps me recharge. That walk in John Muir was brilliant, in no small part because I was alone and able to think for hours, to be where I was, to enjoy that and process the last few months since I was last in Dunbar. I always think better when I’m a wee bit removed from life and being in a perpetual place only made it better that particular day. I can’t arise now and go, unfortunately, since I have a life and work and stuff like that. But I can do what Norman MacCaig did. He lived most of the year in Edinburgh but spent his long summer holidays in Assynt. When he reached Assynt, he ‘fattened his camel’s hump’ with inspiration and ideas to fill his poems for the rest of the year. I do the same whenever I travel and particularly when I am back in East Lothian. Even a glance across the Forth from Fife or on a webcam can satisfy any yearnings if my stores are low. It isn’t quite a secret land but it will do for me.

 

 

Wallace and Gromit

Recently it was announced that the actor Peter Sallis had died at the age of 96. He played Norman Clegg on the long-running pish Sunday night ‘comedy’ Last of the Summer Wine, but to many of us he is better known as the voice of Wallace, the inventor and cheese fanatic from Wallace and Gromit. For those poor souls who have never encountered Wallace and Gromit before, and you truly haven’t lived, Wallace and Gromit is a series of animations involving a madcap inventor and his dug who is much, much smarter than him, produced in clay by Aardman Animations and created by Nick Park. It is meant for children, really, but since I grew up with it, I suppose I can justify keeping an interest. I identify more with Gromit than Wallace, since he is silent and a rolled eye can say so, so much, but there are so many great Wallace lines. One of them appears on the mug I drink out of and it pretty much sums up my outlook on life, taken from A Grand Day Out, when they go to the moon on a Bank Holiday to look for cheese:

‘It’s like no cheese I’ve ever tasted’.

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My Wallace and Gromit mug next to my alternative mug bearing the visage of Sir David Gray

I haven’t watched Wallace and Gromit in a few years. The last time was watching A Matter Of Loaf and Death, including one of those fabulously cheesy names, Piella Bakewell. But my most recent W&G experience was at Blackpool Pleasure Beach about three summers ago. It was a birthday present. I had never been to a theme park in my life and there I was with my family at Blackpool Pleasure Beach. I went on my first rollercoaster at the age of 25. But a major highlight was going to the Wallace and Gromit ride, where you sit in a slipper and get guided around a medley of scenes and lines from the various W&G films. Quite seriously, a life highlight. Even more so was the adjoining gift shop where I spent sixty British pounds on T-shirts, keyrings and plush toys. I still wear my grey T-shirt bearing the red glove worn by the Penguin on the Wrong Trousers from time to time. Anyway, a souvenir of the day was the photo I got took with Gromit. It is one of the few photos of me in my house; one of the others is me with the Scottish Cup. We actually waited until the galoot in the Wallace suit went for a fag break before pouncing to get a photo with Gromit. It’s still on the mantelpiece, pride of place.

I’ve liked Wallace and Gromit since I was a kid. I’m autistic and having a fidget toy has always been important for keeping pace with the sensory overload that is life as I know it. When I was a kid, I used to have keyrings mainly but for a while it was a little figurine of Wallace. I lost it, though. We used to walk our dog each night across Winterfield Park in Dunbar, in all weathers and all year, even in the dark with a torch. One of those dark, dark nights, I lost Wallace. The day after I carefully combed the park though it was nowhere to be seen. Somehow when I went back to school, one of my teachers produced another one. It wasn’t the same somehow but the thought was there.

A few years ago, I had a job I didn’t like. Everyone has one on their CV. It was not long after I had been to Blackpool Pleasure Beach and on my desk was not only a photo of me with Gromit but also a Gromit soft toy. It kept me in touch with my childhood side and looking to Gromit from time to time reminded me of happier times.

When I heard about Peter Sallis’s death, it reminded me of the place Wallace and Gromit has had in my life. Off-the-wall humour, quirky and detail-orientated, the world is the richer for it. As it was for the life of Peter Sallis.

 

 

Edinburgh Waverley

‘This train is for Edinburgh Waverley. This train will call at Croy, Falkirk High…’

I hear this refrain with considerable regularity, the voice of Fletcher Mathers relayed across the Scotrail service I’ve just boarded bound for the capital. Waverley is the main railway station in Edinburgh, sitting in Princes Street Gardens in the shadow of the Castle and much of the city centre sitting high above. At the end of the platforms facing towards Glasgow, you can see Princes Street, the National Gallery and the Bank of Scotland offices. If heading south, you get a view of Governor’s House, the last remaining part of the old Calton Jail that once sat where St. Andrew’s House, the Scottish Government premises, are now. Governor’s House isn’t visible from Regent Road – it is the tower that sits on a rock, pretty much only visible from the eastern end of Waverley Station. An underrated perspective you get from Waverley is when you step onto Market Street. Facing you is the old Scotsman building, now a luxury hotel. The printing presses would have been juddering to life and producing the public prints just across from the station.

The first glimpse of the capital that many get on leaving Waverley is walking up Waverley Steps towards Princes Street. Many folk of course take the escalator that was recently installed when the station was tarted up. The Steps were covered over since the top was the windiest place in Edinburgh, the product of walking up from a valley onto a busy, bustling city street. At the top of Waverley Steps, look left then right. Left you get a glimpse of Edinburgh Castle high up on its rock and Princes Street stretching out with buses, trams and all else; right you get Register House, Leith Street and up to Calton Hill, the Nelson Monument and the folly. There is also the Balmoral Hotel just right there.

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I have spent a lot of time in Waverley in my life. One of my most vivid childhood memories is from when I was a kid. I was diagnosed as being autistic when I was 6. It required several trips to the Royal Hospital for Sick Children (otherwise known as the Sick Kids) in Edinburgh. On one of them we were standing at the door of an intercity train when we were delayed because one of the roof tiles had smashed above us. I have memories of when my school class used to go to the outdoor education centre in Linlithgow and walking up the platform for the train, looked after by one of the older girls in the class. We also went on a magical mystery tour to Dunfermline, which I think I’ve written about here before, and came to Waverley the week before to sort the tickets.

As a day tripper, Waverley soon became even more familiar as most Saturdays, then most weeks, I darted from a (normally late) train from Dunbar across the station to a train some place else. When I started going to the football again, the spirited walks from Easter Road to Waverley in time for the train started too, this time late at night to catch the last train I could get for my connection back in Glasgow. Scotrail, naturally, put on engineering works later at night on that line last year meaning that the last train I could get back to Glasgow was not only 10 minutes earlier but went via Bathgate and Airdrie, taking longer.

The quickest, though not always the easiest, way to get from Dunbar to Edinburgh was by train. Trains were infrequent, mostly every two hours in both directions, though of course the last year or so I lived down there saw Scotrail introduce a more regular service. The last train to Dunbar on a Saturday night from the capital used to be 7pm. It is now about 10pm, I believe, though for many years, my day trips usually had to be curtailed by 7 so I could catch the last train home, an intercity train invariably full of folk heading for hen or stag dos in Newcastle. Or home from hen or stag dos in Edinburgh. Either way there were loads of drunken Geordies. Nice.

Regardless how often I’m there, arriving into Waverley gives me a great thrill every time. It’s a combination of being in a dear, familiar place, the hustle and bustle, the brightness from the glass roof and just the spirit of adventure even if my reasons for being there are prosaic and dull. The appeal continues even while I sometimes grate my teeth at the ‘Heart of Midlothian’ emblems that appear within the station. Waverley is one of very few railway stations named after a novel and to be fair they have acknowledged it well with loads of Walter Scott quotes, hence the hearts. The quotes are great, the endorsement of Ian Cathro’s mob really isnae. I think Network Rail has realised this and some of the station’s signs are now green, just to sate those of us on the side of the angels.

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Edinburgh is the city I was born in so I have a special relationship with the place, even while I call Glasgow, its great rival, home and contentedly so. Undoubtedly the best way to enter our capital is by train, so you can walk up Waverley Steps and hit Princes Street, even if you might want to be off it pretty rapidly. Any station named after a novel is fine with me, especially one where you can go pretty much anywhere in the country with not much difficulty and definitely one which shows off its city to its best effect from whatever angle.

Clipboards

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.

Worth it: being an autistic football fan

Recently I read an excellent book, Saturday, 3pm by Daniel Gray, a series of essays covering the essence of the football experience. I read a staggering amount about football in a given week, some of it well considered, thoughtful and measured, most of it really not. Saturday, 3pm I read on a day when Hibs were playing and I was 70 miles away, relying on social media for updates, constant refreshing of the screen to make sure I didn’t miss a single moment of the action as I also tried to do what I’m actually paid for. I have never read a book that gives such a good insight into what many of us feel on away trips or when the fixture list for the new season comes out, little things that mean a lot to thousands of people all across this land.

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Easter Road
About twenty years ago, I was in primary school. I went to primary school in the east of Edinburgh, about thirty miles from where I grew up. I was in a special needs unit which catered for children on the autistic spectrum, some high-functioning like me, others less so. In those years, we went on some amazing trips, including to the Scotland Yard Adventure Playground in the New Town with its bikes, slopes and sand pits, and Gorgie City Farm with sheep, pigs and cows, naturally enough. One of the most special, though, was to Easter Road, a place I was already very familiar with as the home of my team then as now, Hibernian FC. We had a tour of the Holy Ground, then half-complete with the Famous Five and South in their present form but the West and East still more rustic. I suspect I was one of the few that really enjoyed the short journey to Easter Road but I do remember one of my classmates, who was brilliant at drawing, sketching out a huge likeness of the then Hibs badge when we got back to school.

I was reading an interesting post on one of the Hibs forums about a dad whose lad is on the spectrum and how he is trying to get a sensory room installed at Easter Road, which is an excellent idea. I am fortunate that the sensory experience of football for me is mostly comfortable. Most issues I have at the football are more practical and anxiety-related, like will I find my seat okay or will someone ask me to move to fit their pal on the row or whatever. Most of my life I try very hard to be calm and I have pretty much mastered walking up and through a row of stewards towards a turnstile looking quite unruffled while internally willing myself forward. I have a system when I go to Easter Road. I usually make sure I have change in my hand for my programme and my Happy Hibee tickets, often counted out having paused on Albion Road for a moment. My motor skills aren’t the finest and it tends to be awkward when I’m all awkward scrambling about for change. A lot of folk are very understanding about that, though, thinking my fumbling is because my hands are cold. Usually by the time I reach the turnstile I have a programme in one hand and some change and my season card in the other. By the time I get to my seat, high up in the East Stand, I can have added a couple of pies and a juice to the mix, all balanced with a minimum of fuss.

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My seat
I go to the football partly because I like the crowd. I like being part of a common cause. It would be nice to know more people at the ground but I am used to being alone. Most of the time it doesn’t bother me. I tend to be at the ground early so I spend a fair bit of time watching the ground fill up around me, peering down to the warm-ups and across the city through gaps in the stands. The East Stand where I sit is blessed/cursed with a rubbish sound system. The music played over the tannoy is often muffled and quiet so I don’t always pick it up. I can still hear it but it’s more like a radio in the background. That is an unintended advantage, a reasonable adjustment on the part of the club that I greatly appreciate. When I was at Hampden the other day for the semi against Aberdeen, the PA was loud and boomed. The Hibs one doesn’t boom. I must be one of the few people in the stadium who is happy with our crap tannoy.

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Hampden. A good view of the clouds moving across the sky, if nothing else. Football isn’t meant to be played in bowls.
Until the end of this current season, the Easter Road singing section will be in the East Stand, a couple of sections along from where I sit. I quite like that – I like being near where the action is and that extends to being near where the songs start – and the drum doesn’t frighten me as much as it used to. It has the pleasing sound of a train going over tracks and that can be more soothing, especially when there’s a bit of distance. Next season, the singing section is moving to the Famous Five Stand, to the right of where I sit, about half the length of the pitch away, and I am sure it will be better acoustically. I am desensitised to the drum now and loud singing rarely bothers me either. In fact the only time recently I remember getting even vaguely overloaded was the game at Tannadice, which was also a night game and loud generally.

For me going to the football is about focus. On a good day I can have a hyper-focus. I am there to watch a football game. I might be taking in the other details, the ad hoardings, the songs, the folk around me, but what I am really focusing on is the game itself. I am fortunate that my spot at Easter Road is in the centre of the stand about three-quarters of the way up, affording possibly the best view in the stadium of the action, high enough to see the whole pitch without any issue whatsoever. My preference where possible is to be side-on as opposed to behind the goals. I don’t mind being behind the goals – as in recent trips to Stark’s Park, East End Park and Cappielow – but I like to see the action, not squint into the distance. I think it’s about difficulties with filtering information. The National Autistic Society’s strapline of ‘Too Much Information’ is spot on. It’s about focus and if I can see properly, there’s less to filter and figure out. I remember being at games as a kid and on the way home checking the news to see who actually scored in the game I was at.

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Stark’s Park. For more Raith-related views, see The view from the McDermid Stand
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East End Park
I don’t tend to think about the business of actually going to the football as much as I do the being there. Being a Hibs fan is a key part of who I am. It helps me talk to people, particularly men, as football is common ground for many of us, even if our teams differ. Hibs have also given me some very good times, foremost among them Saturday 21st May 2016 when the Hibs went up to lift the Scottish Cup and the three times I have so far seen Hearts beaten and beaten thoroughly. As I write this, the season is about to end. I am excited about the next one – the other blog post today is called ‘The close season’ about the trips next season to Premiership grounds – though what has become a key part of my routine will be lost for a couple of months. Luckily there are museums to be visited and shorelines to be walked and soon it will be July, the season 2017-2018, back in the Premiership and maybe to win our Cup back too. It’ll be worth it.

Fidget toys

As befits someone who spends a lot of life writing, I carry at least two pens at pretty much all times. Of course this is also useful when I am working since libraries never have a functioning pen when one is so required. They are also useful for when I need to find what the scientists call local coherence, or in other words when I feel slightly awkward or overwhelmed and need to focus on something else. Just yesterday I was at a social gathering and I took out a pen, just for a second, and pressed its top, open and close, just once. It didn’t involve much conscious thought and it was all done in a matter of moments. I even do it sometimes walking along the street. I used to get told off before going to job interviews for always having a pen in my hand. But then again not having a pen in my hand might have led to Donald Trump-esque hand gestures to emphasise whatever points I was trying to make so there’s always an argument to be made on both sides.

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Pens

It’s why I just laugh when I see kids with the latest in-thing, fidget toys. I’m autistic. I’m the king of fidget toys. At various points, I’ve experimented with figurines of Wallace (from Wallace and Gromit), keyrings, S-loops that are used to hang paintings and elastic bands. Indeed I went to the gym recently with an elastic band still around my wrist from work. Fidget toys are interesting looking, sort of like a safety protector for a plug socket but flat. I have seen shops around the place with signs saying ‘Fidget Toys Sold Here’ and it makes me grin broadly each and every time.

It’s strange seeing the world slowly come round to one’s way of thinking. At the moment designer stubble is fashionable. Shaving too often bothers my skin so I inadvertently keep to that particular trend. A wee while ago, ‘geek chic’ was all the rage. I’ve had glasses since I was 10 and I don’t dress like David Gandy anyway. Or look like him or any other male model. That wasn’t a problem either. When I joined Facebook a few months ago, I found that people I went to school with spent their weekends with their families going around castles. Castlebagging is a real term to describe this thoroughly intellectually and spiritually enriching pursuit. It was written about in the papers a few years back and at the time I felt momentarily irritated at the thought of carpetbaggers filling up good castles when I had some of them to myself for years.

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Castle. This one is Warkworth, in Northumberland

Recently the (very worth reading) Anonymously Autistic blogger shared a link on Twitter to a Kickstarter for something called a Fidgi Pen, or a fidget toy disguised as a pen. I didn’t know there was funding available. I just buy pens and they do the business. As I was thinking of what to write next just now, I played about with a Berol Handwriting pen that I bought in a pack of three from the supermarket for a couple of pounds. No disguise required.

It isn’t always easy to know when you fit in. I am 27 now and I have reached a point when I somehow function in society just fine. I wear clothes for comfort rather than fashion. My glasses were expensive but that’s because I need them to see. I wear Skechers shoes (as written about here – other shoes are available) because they are comfortable and don’t hurt my feet. I generally do okay with people. I am not that confident but that’s okay. Indeed with some people that makes the situation more bearable. In society more generally, the fact that fidget toys are popular with neurotypical bairns can only be welcome. We can only hope that the world changes ever more to embrace our unique way of thinking, rather than just tolerate or accommodate it.

 

 

 

What the…?

First, a disclaimer. This post is mildly sweary. It is part of the story to be sweary this time and I have a policy of not using asterisks as the world doesn’t need to be bowdlerised.

That being out of the way. Last weekend Hibs won the Championship. We will be promoted to the Scottish Premiership next season, which is brilliant. We won the league with a 3-0 win against Queen of the South, after Falkirk drew with St Mirren. When we won the Scottish Cup last year, there was an epic pitch invasion which is still being investigated by Police Scotland. Near the end of the Queen of the South game, the stewards started putting up barriers separated by flimsy red and white tape right in front of the East Stand, which is where the rowdier elements of the Hibs support sit and also where I sit. The absurdity of this made me laugh but what made me howl was the response of the singing section, which was the chant ‘What the fucking hell is that?’ to the tune of ‘You’re Not Singing Anymore’. Class.

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Why I’m telling you this is I had a similar response to this when I was in Dunbar the other day. In fact, twice. When I was at high school, I didn’t have a lot of friends. I often went out for a walk at lunchtime and ended up in one of two places, on the Prom or if I felt like walking further, to the bottom of a park called the Glebe, on a point jutting out into the sea. I walked along there to find a fence a good ten feet from where the cliff dropped and right in front of where I used to sit. My response was ‘What the fucking hell is that?’ Seriously, East Lothian Council! Without sounding like the Daily Mail, health and safety gone mad. Indeed whenever I am in Dunbar I make a point of sitting there for a while. I did this time too, by climbing through the fence and plonking myself on the grass and eating my pieces, on the wrong side closest to the sea. It was brilliant as the sun came out and I sat in my T-shirt as I ate and looked over to the harbour and to the folk climbing on the rocks nearby.

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Time number two was when I walked on the Prom. As long as I have been alive, the Prom path has always been cracked. Indeed when I was a kid I used to walk along the cracks for much of the route. But a small part, as it passes the Pin, has been tarred. No idea why. No other part of the path, which runs to about half a mile, has been tarred. It was very recent, not recent enough to draw your name in it or anything but only a week or two old. Even newer was a John Muir quote chalked onto the tarmac, namely:

‘These temple-destroyers, devotees of ravaging commercialism, seem to have a perfect contempt for Nature, and instead of lifting their eyes to the God of the mountains, lift them to the Almighty Dollar.’ (The Yosemite by John Muir, Chapter 15, http://vault.sierraclub.org/john_muir_exhibit/writings/the_yosemite/chapter_15.aspx)

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I spend a lot of my life thinking thoughts along the lines of ‘What the fucking hell is that?’ One of the ways I keep sane is marvelling at how absurd the world is, in how people think and what people think is a good idea. I don’t normally sing it, though, but I might just have to start, even just to be absurd myself for a bit.

Writing about autism

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Sitting on the edge of Bowling Harbour

April is Autism Awareness Month. I did plan to post something on World Autism Awareness Day, which is April 2nd, but the only autism post I had wasn’t quite right. It might appear some time in the future – it’s about special interests. Anyway, I want to write something about autism this month but to do it in my own way. There are plenty of autistic bloggers out there. They cover the Actually Autistic perspective well. When I write about autism, I always feel it is a diversion from what I like to write about, visiting places and what I see along the way. Writing about autism, particularly its drawbacks, is hard and doesn’t feel quite natural. I haven’t known any other life than the one I’ve lived. To write about what it’s like being autistic needs a certain amount of looking from an outsider’s perspective and indeed one of the characteristics of being on the spectrum is not being able to see things from another’s point of view. I can to some extent but only so far.

What I am getting round to is that being autistic can be hellish. But it is who I am. It gives me the problems with eye contact as well as the words that make other folk laugh when I say them or think when I write them. It makes me good for helping fill out forms or sort out dissertations but less good at speaking up when I have a problem. I hear too much and I have to focus extra hard. Sometimes I fall into bed exhausted from my day being all social. If I could change it, though, I wouldn’t. I would be a different person and that wouldn’t be right. I am me, autism and all.

This blog has been one hell of an undertaking. It is a blessed relief and a beast that needs fed regularly to keep it sweet. It is written by an autistic person but not necessarily fuelled by autism. I write out of more than my condition. I write because it is how I best express myself. It is loosening my shoulders as I write. Writing releases the thoughts and tensions of the day and the life I’ve lived and it is, some of the time at least, an absolute joy. What appears here is an insight into my world, how I see and how I think. Autism is a part of who I am. But I am also what I write about here. I find fulfillment in writing but also in walking the world, visiting castles and watching the mighty Hibernian FC in action.

The strapline of World Autism Awareness Week this year was:

‘Until everyone understands’

Until everyone understands. I’m not sure I agree with this. Understanding is one thing, accepting is quite another. I don’t entirely understand neurotypical people. That doesn’t mean I necessarily want to or have to. But I accept them without question. I have to. I quite like neurotypical people, well, some of them. They form the majority of the population, after all. Some of them are funny, thoughtful, interesting. Some of them might even be sexy. Or not, as the case may be. Understanding and acceptance comes when you least expect or realise it. It takes time. Autism is hard to write about because I live with it every day. It doesn’t go away when the whole world feels like it is smiling nor when it’s falling around my ears. It’s why if I have something interesting to write about autism then I’ll share it whenever I feel like it, not waiting for a particular month to come around. Awareness is good, though, and I hope it continues into May and June and all the way back around to next year and the year after. Then it builds into understanding and acceptance then maybe even love, which we all need most of all.