Streets of Glasgow: Union Street


I had 15 minutes between trains at Central and naturally rather than sitting watching the world go by like a sensible person, I instead decided to fit in a Streets of Glasgow walk, the product of a spur-of-the-moment notion on the train as it crossed the river into the station. Union Street still felt like a bit of a cheat given how short it is but it was also a street that could be covered in a few short minutes. I stepped out of Central Station and turned left, walking back up to the junction with Renfield Street and Gordon Street to start off.


Union Street is one of my least favourite streets in the city, with incredibly narrow pavements, lots of scaffolding, fumes and usually too many people. It is always for going somewhere else, thankfully, with its many bus stops as well as entrance to Central Station, the busiest railway station in Scotland. It isn’t the nicest street in the city but it is probably one of the busiest and most vital. Like many streets in the city, it has some elegant Victorian-looking buildings but there are a few more modern ones, much more grotty on the Central Station side. One of the nicer modern buildings, on the corner of Argyle Street, houses a big branch of KFC. Above ground, however, there are mock-Rennie Mackintosh style touches with thin long vertical windows and stylistic panels below. It surprised me in the best way and made me think slightly better of the place.


Glasgow is a very in-your-face sort of place and Union Street does quite well in that regard. Architecturally, the best one is the building which houses the Co-op and a legal office. It sits on the corner of Gordon Street though the view I had with the autumn light and the adverts reflecting on the glass was actually really pleasant, a more chilled out city scene than most. The other highlight was the big TokyoToys Manga Store, which I don’t think has been there very long, which was massive and also had quite a few folk in it. Good for them but the muckle big blob character in the window is a bit other-worldly in the best possible sense. It reminded me of an advert currently on TV but I am scunnered if I can remember what it was advertising, suggesting the advert hasn’t served its purpose. (Swinton Insurance.)


I reached the corner at Argyle Street by Tim Hortons in just three minutes, very comfortably the shortest walk in this Streets of Glasgow series. It yielded far more than I thought, not least the ghost signs on the closed shops, including the old Wimpy just down from the Italian street food place. It’s strange seeing a fast-food shop become like archaeology, another layer below the surface of the street. In every city in the world, there are streets that don’t have much charm. Edinburgh has Gorgie Road, for example, South Bridge and quite a few others. Glasgow has Union Street, one of many, but with any city street, it is worth looking beyond the obvious, up and often out, even at bonkers blobs in shop windows or above KFC with its Rennie Mackintosh stylee and the waft of Popcorn chicken on the breeze.

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Playing for the love of the game: Queen’s Park vs Arbroath

A few months ago, I wrote a post about Hampden Park, Scotland’s national football stadium, in which I expressed the hope I would actually get there to watch Queen’s Park play at their home ground. The thought of a lower league match being played out in a 52,000 seater stadium appealed to me greatly and I hoped I could make it happen:

But I would like to see Queen’s Park most of all. The Spiders are 150 years old this year and make a virtue of being the last amateurs in the senior leagues in Scotland. They also play at Hampden to an average crowd of 645, some 51,000 fewer people than the ground’s capacity. It’s that which makes me want to go, as well as Hampden being a mere 4 miles from here. Plus it would back up that I’ve often said that Queen’s Park is my Glasgow team, owing to my deep dislike of Celtic and Rangers. I’ve checked and there are a grand total of two Saturdays this season when Hibs aren’t playing but Queen’s Park are at home, on 11th November against Arbroath and 6th January against Stranraer. Hopefully I’ll get there. I don’t imagine 645 people can roar that hard but I hope to be proven wrong.

Well, Saturday 11th November was yesterday and I was indeed to be found among the 764-strong crowd who braved a cold November afternoon in Mount Florida to see Queen’s Park beaten by Arbroath by two goals to nil. I had been to Hampden only a month or so before to see Hibs play Celtic in the League Cup and I was in the same part of the ground. They only bother opening two sections of the William Hill South Stand for Queen’s Park games with the two sets of supporters segregated. That and the numbers of stewards were probably unnecessary. Apart from that and of course the huge screens and even bigger food prices, it was quite a small operation with lots of families and a souvenir stand with strips on a rail. Plus you could sit where you liked.


I turned up about half two and after getting some pies, I grabbed a seat, half-way down the stand with a good view of the action. I am used to Easter Road where the teams are usually out warming up. By this point at Hampden, however, there was nothing doing. I was one of a handful of folk actually in the stand, even a half-hour before the game started. Queen’s Park don’t do a paper programme, instead they do a digital one, downloadable from the club’s website. I had looked earlier in the day to see if it was there but it was only when I reached Hampden that it was available. It was a decent effort, almost like a fanzine, with the usual column from the manager and a decent page about Arbroath as well as a couple of good articles about old football grounds and even older Queen’s Park games. One’s iPhone also furnished the team lines and I saw that Arbroath had Scott Martin playing, who is on loan there from Hibs. At least I recognised someone.

It being Armistice Day, the game was preceded by a minute’s silence, immaculately kept. The game began and for the first bit, the teams were quite evenly matched, though Arbroath edged it. They scored in the 17th minute, the goal from close range by Gavin Swankie, and never really looked like losing after that, especially after their second from Colin Hamilton after 55 minutes. Queen’s Park weren’t great, not really getting going except for a few half-decent runs from midfield. The home support were vocal, with a few loud cries from men and boys of ”Mon the Spiders’ or ”Mon the Queen’s’, though most of it was out of frustration at their team’s efforts. To be fair, they were mince, with the possession statistics of 48% to Arbroath’s 52% not taking account of how little they made their possession count. Their two best players were their top scorer, Anton Brady, and their number 3, Scott Gibson, who won Man of the Match. Gibson wasn’t bad at all and deserved the bottle of Irn-Bru or whatever he got from the sponsors, AG Barr.

As a neutral I greatly enjoyed my afternoon. If I was a Queen’s Park fan, I wouldn’t have been so pleased. They are now four points adrift of Forfar at the bottom of League 1, with no immediate prospect of moving from the bottom spot, especially since they haven’t won very often lately. That might not change with the visit of Dunfermline of the Championship next Saturday in the Scottish Cup. Arbroath, who climbed above East Fife into fourth, were good value for their win, working quite well tactically with Scott Martin mainly on the wing, changing sides halfway through the first 45. Their fans were quite vocal too, even branching into that perennial favourite, the Weegie song, heard from many fans whenever they visit a ground in this fine city, about how those resident here are only happy on Giro day.

Next Saturday I will be back to Easter Road to watch Hibs play St Johnstone, back in my season ticket seat and back being partisan. Being a neutral yesterday lowered my blood pressure considerably, focusing only on watching the match rather than bothering about every decision that goes against my team. When I’m in my seat next weekend, I will be checking the Queen’s Park score, though, commiserating with those poor souls who will be back at Hampden, all for the love of the game.

Reading and podcasts 

Temple of Muses, near Dryburgh Abbey

Here, I steer clear of rants. I have been known to rant about many things. It is why that very often I steer clear of the news. As I write, leaning to the middle of November, the news is full of crises. It always is but it is becoming ever harder to look at the news without feeling miserable at the state of the world. I used to yell, now I just want to crawl back into bed. I am looking at the news less often than normal and I am trying my best to cut down on social media, particularly Twitter, which rightly has come in for stick of late for its vague moral standards.

More and more lately, I have been delving into my WordPress Reader rather than following the news. I read considerably anyway and that won’t ever change. (For non-bloggers, WordPress is the software I use to blog and the Reader is a feed of blogs that I follow.) Instead of keeping up with the blogs every day or two, or relying on the weekly round-ups I get of the blogs I follow, it has become twice a day at least. I know some use Feedly for this purpose or other apps but WordPress does me, since I can do blog things with it too. I don’t follow many political blogs, thankfully, instead having the pleasure of, like today, reading about visits to the National Archives, walking near to Craigmillar Castle, a sheep dog promoting the Scottish Outdoor Access Code or an appreciation of the baseball player Roy Halladay of the Toronto Blue Jays and the Philadelphia Phillies, who died on 7th November. In recent days, the warden of the Isle of May has written daily updates, accompanied by loads of stunning photographs, of the changing of that island from being all about seabirds to assuming its mantle once more as a seal colony. These have been a particular tonic, taking me far from urban cares and into the middle of the Firth of Forth. Not always a bad thing, even in the wilds and colds of November.

I have also turned from falling asleep with the Shipping Forecast, and waking up with the Today programme, to podcasts. I’ve written here before about enjoying listening to podcasts, particularly The West Wing WeeklyDesert Island Discs and Scotland Outdoors. Recently I have added to this list Fighting Talk, a sports panel show from BBC Radio Five Live, the podcast version of the Scottish football magazine Nutmeg, and the recordings of various events at this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival, including Ian Rankin, Harriet Harman, Daniel Gray and Juno Dawson. Falling asleep to podcasts is far better too for my sanity than the BBC World Service with its jaunty theme music and the news of the day, just as reading other words beyond the newspapers is better by day.

I have very few answers to the big problems in the world. I would rather folk pay their tax, all of it, rather than stashing money in havens far across the sea. I would rather Brexit wasn’t happening. I would rather nuclear weapons didn’t exist. I would rather anyone else on this planet was President of the United States than Donald Trump, just as I would rather see someone else as Prime Minister than Theresa May. Then again there doesn’t seem to be much choice for a successor given that two Cabinet ministers have gone in the last week. I would also rather that sexual harassment didn’t happen and all men and women treated each other with the utmost respect. The world is by no means perfect. There are times quite simply when escaping is best, through blogs, podcasts or whatever means are required to simply keep sane and to regain the strength to speak up against those many wrongs the news reports each and every day.

 

Streets of Glasgow: West Nile Street


Trust me to miss some architectural wonder. I got home from this one and picked up the wonderful Look Up Glasgow by Adrian Searle and David Barbour, a book all about the best bits of Glasgow that are above our heads, and I missed ‘winged mythical creatures’ above Starbucks. To make matters worse, the carving by James Boucher dating from 1875 has a pithy description in the book that the creatures judge ‘you for getting whipped cream on your latte’. I had thought that a lot of the architectural interest on West Nile Street had been on the other side of the street and here I had missed something. Damn and blast.


I started this walk from the northern end near the bus station, first taking a proper look at the building that houses La Bonne Auberge and the Holiday Inn, which has the look of an old warehouse or alternatively a mill building. Then again right now I seem to think everything looks like a mill building. The contrast of the building’s cupola with the tall cinema behind it was quite striking.

West Nile Street is another of the city’s main thoroughfares, vertical on the grid like Renfield Street, Hope Street and Queen Street. I usually cover its length at a very good lick, since it is downhill, as invariably I am rushing from the bus station to catch a train. This day I wasn’t rushing, which was good since my Vans weren’t made for speed or much beyond decoration. Most of the interesting parts of the street were on my right, or the western side of the street, though there were some good points on the other side too, like the Glasgow Stamp Shop whose website is pennyred.com, a neat philatelic reference and straight to business even in their web address about what they actually sell. (Also agreeably cheesy is their slogan, the unbeatable ‘Where no-one is second class’.) It reminded me of Stephens the bakers, a Fife company based in Dunfermline, where I had just come from. Stephens are particularly renowned for their wonderful steak bridie. So renowned indeed are these particular delights that the company’s website is steakbridie.com. Despite not being a cyclist, I invariably look into the cycle shop on the left side of the street, usually marvelling at the breadth and depth of their wares.


Also of interest was the back of the new retail development on Buchanan Street which is sleek and modern with an older pillared section in the middle. A lot of the buildings on West Nile Street are older, more than Renfield Street, with a fair few of the old bank buildings with a high central atrium and offices above. Some of the modern office blocks up towards West George Street have also adopted this trend. The old bank buildings aren’t banks any more, though, with fancy burger shops in the two I could see. The one which houses Shilling Brewing Company is austere art deco, if there can be such a thing with a few floral flourishes above street level and some pillars between the high windows. Handmade Burger Company has some striking Greek-style sculpture above the high pillars. I like old bank buildings and Glasgow has a few crackers, the high atria and offices above reminding me a bit of the Bank of England in London, always a bonkers looking structure with pillars upon pillars.


Keeping up the food theme for ages I’ve admired the red sandstone building on the corner of West Nile Street and West George Street which houses the Nippon Kitchen Japanese restaurant. It just looks quintessentially Glaswegian, red sandstone, stylish without being over-the-top, though strangely right for housing a Japanese restaurant too.

This was another busy walk, undertaken on a busy Friday teatime, so I had to do my best to get photos without getting run over or in the road of folk just trying to get home. Glasgow is one of the loudest cities in the world and unlike many others, people actually talk in the street. Sometimes you hear more than you want, like from the group of students talking about their pal who lots of folk think is a bit mental but really isn’t. That’s a bit tame, though. I’ve sometimes hurtled down West Nile Street on Saturday nights in full swing with gaggles of drunken people about the place, me of course being entirely sober at the time. Being able to slow down and just look around without needing to hurry was glorious, even if I missed the grotesque creatures judging the punters in Starbucks.

Source and further reading –

Searle, Adrian and Barbour, David, Look Up Glasgow, 2013, Glasgow: Freight Books

 

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.

Digest: October 2017

The Battery, Dunbar
I started October on annual leave so plenty of rovings to report this month, beginning with a Sunday sojourn down the coast. I had a notion to go somewhere and decided on a wee spin on the train. From my bit of Glasgow, there are direct trains to Wemyss Bay on a Sunday and I soon stepped out of a train in the beautiful glass station, taking in the Victorian architecture. I was tempted to walk down the boardwalk to the ferry to Rothesay but the weather was wild and windy and the decision was made easier just to keep on dry land. I was going to have a wander but with the wind I just took a few photos and scurried across for the bus to Largs. The road from Wemyss Bay to Largs is one of the best in the country, suitably dramatic with views to Cumbrae, Bute and Cowal, only better with the white-topped waves. As I walked in Largs, the wind and the rain nearly blew me off my feet so I only went a little way before retreating to a coffee shop then the train home.

Wemyss Bay
The next day, for want of any better ideas, I went to Edinburgh. I hadn’t planned anything so just walked up Leith Walk with the hope that I would have a brainwave en route. Luckily I did and ended up on the bus to Portobello to walk along the prom there, the weather being sunnier and much nicer than the previous day. A few weeks previously, I had written a piece on old power stations (to appear here in due course) and mentioned the old power station in Portobello, now replaced by houses and five-a-side pitches. A photo I came across with the station’s demolition came to mind with King’s Road in the background and a massive crater where the station used to be.

Portobello with East Lothian in the background
That Wednesday I went to Perth, where I took in the ever braw Perth Museum and Fergusson Gallery. The Fergusson had a particularly intriguing exhibition of paintings and documents about Fergusson’s friendship with Charles Rennie Mackintosh. For those who will insist on asking me rather than utilising Google, it’s on until 29th January 2018. Perth Museum’s excellent exhibition celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Perthshire Society of Natural Science with very well-arranged stuffed huge animals is on until tomorrow, 4th November.

Perth Museum
Before I went to Perth, I had time to kill so undertook a Streets of Glasgow walk along Renfield Street.

The following day I took a train to Berwick, loving walking the walls in the sunshine. I particularly relished being able to look in the distance to Lindisfarne and Bamburgh. As I walked, I tried to decide where I would head for next, down south or up north, eventually settling on Dunbar. I bought an Ordnance Survey map since unaccountably I had left the relevant sheets in the house and because I had notions to go to Dunglass Collegiate Church and the waterfall at Bilsdean, both close by each other up the coast nearer Dunbar. Sadly bus times were against me so I headed straight for Dunbar instead, soon avoiding high waves as I walked along the prom to the East Links. I hadn’t been in my home town for about six months and being on familiar turf was really what I needed. I hadn’t been to the Battery on Lamer Island for a while and was glad to be there to see the new art installations and interpretative boards around it. Looking out to the North Sea, St. Abbs Head, the Isle of May and the Bass was particularly good on that bright sunny day. My visit also included a walk along the Prom, where my spirit was washed a little cleaner.

Berwick
Berwick
It is mandatory when visiting Dunfermline (or Kirkcaldy) that I do my utmost to sample some of those lovely steak bridies from Stephens the bakers, regardless of the result. Thus it was that Friday that I was sat in Pittencrieff Park in Dunfermline with two bridies, ensuring they were swiftly polished off. Dunfermline is a very easy place to reach from Glasgow and my plan was to take in the new Carnegie Library and Galleries, one of those all-purpose cultural buildings that spring up all over the place. It’s excellent, with a branch library and archives as well as museum and gallery space. Since I was on leave and I thus didn’t want to linger amidst the books, most of my visit concentrated on the stunning views to the Abbey as well as the art and museum objects. There was an exhibition of some of Fife’s considerable art collection, including a few Colourists and Glasgow Boys (and Girls) works familiar from trips to Kirkcaldy. Another highlight was the video of archive footage of gala days and the like soundtracked by Dunfermline musicians, namely the Skids, Big Country and Barbara Dickson, quite an eclectic mix. Honestly, it’s better than it sounds.

Dunfermline Carnegie Library and Galleries
On the way back, I did a Streets of Glasgow walk on West Nile Street in the city centre.

Over that weekend, I went to watch Hibs lose to Aberdeen then on the Sunday I went to Cathkin Park, particularly liking being in that fine place in the midst of autumn leaves. Another Streets of Glasgow walk resulted, this time on Union Street in the town.

The following Saturday, Hibs played Celtic in the League Cup semi at Hampden. The unexpected pleasure of a comfortable leather seat only slightly mitigated the horror of losing to the lesser greens. I have a sort-of tradition of walking home from Hampden after semi finals and that was what I did, covering nearly five miles from Mount Florida to Cardonald. Luckily the sun had come out by that point and the autumn colours again made it a nice walk, soothing a brow furrowed by the football just witnessed at the National Stadium.

That Tuesday I was in the capital for the derby. Beforehand, I got there a bit early so had a psychogeographic wander around the New Town.

Last Friday, I was in Partick. After doing my business over there, I went to Kelvingrove, paying particular attention to my favourite painting, the Paps of Jura by William MacTaggart.

On Sunday, I went to Dundee with my dad. We headed first to Broughty Ferry where we lunched on a bench watching the local sailing club in action on the Tay. Broughty Castle with its art and natural history was very fine, though of course I proceeded to slip on the stairs, right in front of the bemused museum assistant who proceeded to ask if I was all right. It happens enough that I don’t even get that embarrassed any more. After Broughty Ferry, we headed into Dundee city centre to visit the mighty McManus Galleries. The Diam slices in the cafe are outstanding. We had a walk by the Tay quickly before it got dark.

Broughty Castle Museum
McManus Galleries
V and A under construction next to the RRS Discovery in Dundee
So, that’s October. The clocks have gone back and the nights are fair drawing in. I never used to like autumn though we have been lucky that it has been quite mild here in the west. Lots of good adventures this month. Plus I’m back studying too and even still ahead of the course calendar. Hopefully there will be more adventures (and ticks off the course calendar) to come in November.

Thanks as ever to all readers and followers. I am particularly proud of October’s posts, particularly ‘Scotland by museums’ and ‘Muriel Spark’, and I hoped you enjoyed reading them. The next post here will be on Sunday. It was going to be about Platform 9 3/4, delving slightly into Harry Potter, but instead it will be about studying. Often even more magical.

Posts this month –

Fidget

Thinking about a wander

Murals in Paisley

Digest: September 2017

Down the harbour 

Wemyss Bay/Largs

Streets of Glasgow: Renfield Street

Scotland by museums

Cathkin Park

Road from Hampden

Stations

Muriel Spark

Photographs

 

 

Programmes

There are arguably too many ways we can find out about football. Club websites, apps, 24 hour breaking news, message boards, podcasts, club TV channels, regular TV channels and of course the good old public prints. A lot of this is digital, accessible from the swipe of a smartphone. I myself often check the scores from other grounds when watching Hibs. Sometimes, though, this backfires such as recently when we played Celtic and I had to wait for the PA announcer to tell me the scores since everybody and their granny was using their mobile data and I couldn’t. Analogue is very often best and it’s why I’m writing in defence of another form of print media: the match day programme. I went back to football after a bit of an absence in 2014 and I have a programme from each and every game since, well, except the recent match at Ross County where I had to make do with a printed teamsheet. Some of them are battered, others have been in the rain, even some fairly pristine, placed under my seat and conveyed home after the day’s proceedings have concluded.


Programmes are probably irrelevant now. As I said, pretty much anything can be found online. But still I buy one and I read it, usually before the game and over half-time. Most of interest are usually the away programmes. In the pile from this current season I have examples from Celtic, Dundee and Alloa, plus the aforementioned Ross County teamsheet. They vary considerably in quality, in every sense of that word, though from each is usually a clear sense of dedication to the club, of love even. The Alloa programme from the 3-0 drubbing Hibs administered on a drookit July afternoon has real, genuine opinions, a far cry from the normal corporate PR stuff. One article begins:

‘It doesn’t seem so long since we were all staggering out of the Indodrill Stadium punch drunk after the play-off epic, yet here we are back for the start of the new season.’

Love it.


They are also a reminder of days past, some half-forgotten, others very clear. One of my most prized possessions is the programme for the 2016 Scottish Cup Final, which gets kept with the rest of my souvenirs from that wonderful day, a haul that also includes newspapers, books and DVDs. The Alloa game I mentioned earlier saw me sitting in a gazebo and still getting absolutely soaking. Going through my programme pile last night brought back other memories. A Hearts programme from 2014-15 reminded me that our captain Sir David Gray once had a full head of hair. The Rangers programme from 13th February 2015 had me back in the away end at Ibrox with all of us Hibees going absolutely berserk as Lewis Stevenson scored our second that night. Also memorable that night was the cry from the Hibs end when we were kept in to let the Rangers hordes out. Not long before The Rangers had put their manager Ally McCoist on gardening leave. As the ground emptied, a groundsman came out on a tractor, prompting ‘Ally, Ally, gies a wave’.

I’m not a collector. I’m a reader and genuinely I like to read the programme to get the lie of the land. Or to be enlightened. The Hibs programmes invariably feature on games and players past, usually penned by Tom Wright of the Hibs Historical Trust. Last season’s were about Hibs playing in America in 1967. Most programmes usually feature something historical, usually a link to both clubs, like Dundee recently, which was very polished, professional and actually accomplished in that respect. Yes, very often a programme is a PR tool of the club that prints them. They are often expensive, such as at a semi or a final when they are usually a fiver at least. More at a concert. But they are a reminder of the game that transpired, a historical document to supplement hazy memories, often bearing the marks of the event itself, the rain or the tears or even the pie grease. I imagine my pile will continue to grow, at least until it fills more than the cupboard it currently inhabits, at which point I’ll probably have to reconsider. Not the football, I hasten to add. I’m too far gone for that.

Further reading –

The Scottish Supporters Network, Programmes In The Digital Age, accessible via http://www.scottishsupporters.net/programmes-in-the-digital-age/

Photographs

Back in this blog’s early days, I was told that one thing that would improve it was photos. They would break up the text. Ever since I’ve kept to that and indeed I often take photos specifically for the blog, sometimes on spec for a potential future post. I would like to share some of my favourite photos from the blog over the last couple of years, giving some of the context behind them.

This first one was taken at the Science Museum in London, with what might be the Rocket in the centre of the shot and a lighthouse lamp from the Western Isles to the right of it. The Science Museum is excellent and it is stunningly arranged.

This was taken in the old Victoria Infirmary in Glasgow during a tour just before the current works to turn it into flats. You can almost see the nurses, doctors and patients moving along.

This is the old Winterfield Pavilion in Dunbar, now demolished. It stood abandoned for most of my lifetime though previously it was used variously as a performance space and public toilets. I suspect my interest in abandoned structures may have started there.

This is Kev’s Beach, not far from St. Abbs Head in Berwickshire. It is a little cove with a pebbly beach just off the path. It does have a name on the OS map but it felt like my own discovery, hence its unofficial moniker.

Dryburgh Abbey is a stunning place just by the Tweed in the Borders. I’ve only ever been there on gloriously sunny days, including this summer when I sat a while by the river and read. Blessed in that dawn to be alive.

This is the back of the old James Dunbar lemonade works, behind Easter Road Stadium in Edinburgh. The South Stand at Easter Road is still referred to as the Dunbar End, not because it is in the general direction of Dunbar, which it isn’t, but for the works.

Last one is Cathkin Park, taken a couple of weeks ago, a beautiful autumn day just to ponder and wander.

Some of these were taken with my camera, which is a Nikon Coolpix L340, though most of the more recent ones were taken with an iPhone 7. The last two definitely were. I haven’t taken my camera out all that often recently but since it has been a gorgeous autumn, I may just have to change that.

Muriel Spark

When I was at high school, I did a lot of reading. I worked through the senior section of the school library and read some of the classics of the Scottish canon, including Sunset SongThe House of the Green ShuttersDoctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde, and The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner. I did it off my own back because I wanted to read, no other reason, becoming probably one of the few Scottish teenagers who wasn’t obliged to read Sunset Song while studying Higher English. (I didn’t anyway – I got The Great Gatsby when I did my Higher. Sunset Song is a beautiful book and every time I pass through the Mearns I think of it.) One book I read for the first time then was The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark, a thin volume but one filled with insight, wit and well-drawn characters. I remember when I read it, actually, after doing my Advanced Higher History prelim. My head was utterly mashed after the three-hour exam and as my brain raced, I got through The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie in about an hour sitting in the sixth-year common room. I liked it a lot.

The Finishing School by Muriel Spark (and yes, that’s my hand)
Every so often, I pick up a Muriel Spark novel. She wrote quite a few and I am nowhere near done. In fact I remember my excitement when a volume of Spark’s essays came out. I read it over a couple of days on the way to work. I almost cried out a few times with joy at some of the great phrases and sentiments expressed. That’s a common Spark reaction for me and I’ve had it a lot when reading her work, most recently the other day when reading The Finishing School. I bought a copy a month or two ago at the Edinburgh Book Festival, a nice reissue as part of Canongate’s Canon series, and it didn’t disappoint. The first page, which features a creative writing lecture, is great and it is worth the entrance money alone, as they say. A few pages later, one of the school’s students, Chris, is writing a historical novel about Mary, Queen of Scots, David Rizzio and Lord Darnley. He is asked why he writes and replies:

‘I want to see what I write.’

A sentiment I can certainly relate to.

I was told once that Muriel Spark’s books are a masterclass in creative writing, that they cover all the techniques, all the form that books should encompass and deploy if they should be successful. I tend to agree with that, with the best example A Far Cry From Kensington. I always get the title of that one confused, thinking it’s called Last Exit From Kensington, which would be funny if Muriel Spark had written the film script for Last Exit to Brooklyn. I do the same, I should point out, with the book I would take to a desert island, The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd, often having to describe it as ‘that brilliant book about the Cairngorms that I can’t remember what it’s called’.

Muriel Spark herself was an interesting person, with lots of drama and intrigue in her story. She is one of the many Scottish writers whose words have committed to the concrete in Lady Stair’s Close, outside the Writers’ Museum in Edinburgh, sponsored by the Muriel Spark Society. They read:

‘The transfiguration of the commonplace’

These were taken from The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, where in the future Sandy writes a book of psychology with that title. I think they neatly cover the worlds Muriel Spark created in her novels, finely drawn and worked with immense loads of detail dispensed with in a few pithy phrases. The other day I went into work and ordered pretty much our entire Muriel Spark stock and I’m looking forward to working through them in the coming weeks and months, celebrating Spark’s centenary as we should celebrate all writers, by opening a book and starting to read.

Muriel Spark plaque in Writers’ Court, Edinburgh

Stations

The journalist Simon Jenkins recently published a book called Britain’s Best 100 Railway Stations, rating those stations on their architectural and other merits. Ten of those hundred – Aviemore, Edinburgh Waverley, Glasgow Central, Gleneagles, Glenfinnan, Pitlochry, Perth, Rannoch, Stirling, Wemyss Bay – are in Scotland, with the beautiful station at Wemyss Bay pictured on the cover. Of these ten, I have spent time in five of them, passed through Aviemore, Gleneagles and Pitlochry, and one day I would like to get to Glenfinnan and Rannoch.

Glasgow Central
My own top 10 would probably include Waverley, Central, Perth, Stirling and Wemyss Bay though I might add to the list Glasgow Queen Street, Leuchars, Linlithgow, Paisley Gilmour Street and Prestonpans, off the top of my head. On the subs bench would be Arbroath and Dingwall, probably Dunbar since it’s the station I’ve spent the most time on in my life. Haymarket’s recent revamp is rather fine too, managing to work in the handsome station house to the sleek modern glass and chrome affair that makes up the rest of the station. I’ve written about Waverley fairly recently – in Edinburgh Waverley – and Glasgow Central in the Streets of Glasgow post about Gordon Street. The others I’ve been to a fair bit, except Dingwall, which I’ve only been to once.

Dunbar
Perth Station is formed of two distinct sections, the shed I know best where the trains to Inverness and Edinburgh leave from while there are two bay platforms at the far end for trains to Dundee and Glasgow which I have come to know better in recent years. While Perth is huge, empty and rattly now, it strikes me as a place which has been bustly over time and it is quite atmospheric, resonant of past journeys and feeling far from anywhere else. The approach from Dundee is the best, passing across the Tay and Moncrieffe (or Friarton) Island along a bridge two storeys above street level into the station. It also passes near the Fergusson Gallery, which is situated in an old water tower right by the river.

Stirling is one of the few Scottish stations that appear in art, namely ‘Stirling Station’ by the Glasgow Boy William Kennedy, which currently resides in Kelvingrove. Stirling is smaller than Perth but quite pleasant in its way. The nicest feature is the main concourse with a curved glass roof sort of like the one at Wemyss Bay, though the main entrance with the jagged gable end is quite fine too.

Wemyss Bay is gorgeous, particularly the glass roof and its curves, the wooden curved walkway down to the ferry and the view outside. It’s well-tended and every time I’m there it feels like an adventure.

Glasgow Queen Street
Glasgow Queen Street is in the midst of a refurbishment so it isn’t looking its best at the moment. I still always feel excited as I walk up the platform to the train, feeling palpably content under that elegant roof and walking on that polished floor.

Leuchars is an underrated pleasure. It is not on a direct route to Glasgow so I haven’t been there for a while. It has a single island platform sitting in the middle of a field, albeit one facing an army base. I’ve spent a fair bit of time there sitting looking out watching the world go by.

Linlithgow isn’t the most beautiful station but it has a great view from its platforms towards the Palace and St. Michael’s Church, particularly as the sun sets as it casts silhouettes.

Paisley Gilmour Street
Paisley Gilmour Street looks like a castle from the outside. It is fabulous for people watching. It is also an elegant big train shed, a bit like Perth, with trains to destinations across western Scotland coming in and out every few minutes. The new mural in the walkway is beautiful, fitting with Paisley’s hopes to become City of Culture in 2021.

Prestonpans
Prestonpans is probably the least likely addition to this list. I like the murals painted on the outside of the old station buildings, including an image of Prestongrange’s Beam Engine and other allusions to the Pans’ considerable history including salt and brewing. There is also a very fine view across the fields to Bankton House.

The best bit of train travel is the travel itself, being on the train and seeing what is passed by on the way somewhere else. Stations make the whole experience better, well, some of the time and we are lucky in Scotland to have some very fine stations indeed. Writing this has encouraged me to spend some time this autumn exploring some of them, perhaps beginning with a return to Wemyss Bay and Perth. To the trains.