Sitting by the river

In May 2008, I went on the first of a great many solo day trips. I wrote a little about it in the recent post Durham Cathedral, as a matter of fact. Why I am mentioning it again was that a couple of weeks ago I had to do a factory reset on my tablet, where I store a fair whack of my photos, and start again. I uploaded photos from my cameras and my phone, and slowly but surely I’ve managed to get a fair few memories back onto my tablet to flick through whenever I please. One of the photos I found on my old Kodak camera was of that day, taken by the Wear, sitting on some steps right on the edge of the river. I sat there for ages and I’ve sat there quite a few times since, sometimes with other folks sitting nearby, other times entirely alone. I have been there in all seasons, including in the winter when the higher river level claims the steps temporarily.

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I’ve written before about how absolutely life-affirming that day was. I’m not normally one for sitting for long distances – there’s too much to see and do whenever I get away – but that day I sat there for quite a while watching the rowers on the river and folk pass by on the path behind me. It was quite a cloudy day, as I recall, but there was a little sun, which passed through the leaves in a way that never fails to make me thrill and love the world just a tiny bit more. I think I will need to get back to Durham soon – that’s usually the problem when I look through photos, I get pangs that lead me to journey planning. Never normally a bad thing, I hasten to add, just as sitting by a river, even for a seaside person like myself, can soothe the soul just about as much as a wave can.

Streets of Glasgow: High Street

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This walk was utterly unplanned. It was inspired by passing Glasgow Cross on the way back into the city. Seeing the Tolbooth Steeple reminded me that the street that lies to its north is the city’s High Street, no less. It being a beautiful sunny afternoon, it was all I could do that I got off the bus at George Square and walked along George Street past Strathclyde University and its many murals towards the top of the High Street. With the Cathedral and the Necropolis in the background, I set off, stopping within a matter of moments to admire a mural on the gable end of one of the buildings, showing a beardy guy with birds around him. The avian kind, I should add.

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The High Street represents a lot of Glaswegian stereotypes – red tenements, closed shops and it is a bit rough, a lot more so than Byres Road, the last street which featured in this Streets of Glasgow series. Also like much of Glasgow, however, it has many fine buildings – it is always worth looking up. On the first stretch leading down to George Street, I not only appreciated the mural but also some fine finials, carvings and statues in the space of maybe 300 yards. I crossed the road by a solicitor’s office and was rewarded by looking up to see an elegant building, apparently part of a City Improvement scheme in the late 1890s, complete with curved windows and towers at the top. Across the road, though, was the first incongruous building, namely 220 High Street, the headquarters of Glasgow Life, which is a modern office block which looks like it’s composed of a box of ice lollies the wrong way round. In short, it’s part of the ‘middle finger’ school of modern architecture so I gladly passed by. The High Street has a mixture of old and new buildings, as most of Glasgow does, though there was a fair bit of empty ground across from the station which yielded a good view towards the Merchant City and Strathclyde University’s many murals.

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Unlike on Byres Road, there were few folk walking the whole way like I was. There were a mixture of commuters despite the Bank Holiday and students heading in and out of the halls of residence further down the High Street. Across the road from the halls was a good reminder of how multicultural our great city is with an eastern European food shop next to a Russian food shop which sat next to a bookies.

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Only a wee while later, I found myself back at Glasgow Cross, at the end of another walk. The Tolbooth Steeple dates from 1623 and sits like an island in the midst of a busy road junction. Or an archipelago really, since there’s also the Mercat Cross and the ventilation grilles of the old Glasgow Cross railway station around the junction. The steeple is, I read, the only surviving part of the Tolbooth which was once the centre of Glasgow’s civic life before being demolished in the 1920s. I noticed, though, that the plaque on the steeple, marking it as a city landmark, was not only on the road side with no pavement but also high above where anyone could see it without craning their neck. This walk was another around this city when I did that a lot. It is always worth looking up in Glasgow, wherever you are, but this walk was a great insight into this city, more so than Byres Road, a real, diverse, interesting Glasgow.

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Craigmillar Castle

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Craigmillar Castle

I set out the other day with no other plan than to go to Edinburgh. The fatal flaw came when the train was passing through Princes Street Gardens and I didn’t have a clue what direction I would head in from Waverley. Notions of the Botanics or going across the Forth to Dunfermline vaguely appealed but not that much. Then I had the idea to go to Craigmillar Castle and within a matter of minutes I was striding up platform 13 and out of the station, bought lunch and on a bus. Within about twenty minutes I was getting off the bus at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, which sits on the outskirts of the capital, just furth of the City Bypass. There’s a path from the ERI up to Craigmillar Castle but the problem was that the hospital had grown considerably since my last visit and the bus stops were at the other side of the site from then too. A world tour of the hospital later and I ended up on the right road eventually. At the road end for the castle, a gate separated me and where I should have been. I vaulted the gate only to notice that there was a path and a pedestrian crossing about 50 yards away. I do that sort of stupid thing often enough not to be too fussed – I wasn’t to know that.

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Gate, seen and conquered

Despite a moratorium on buying books (which continues, incidentally, and gifts of books will be looked upon negatively), I came away with a guidebook, bought from a very cheerful Historic Scotland steward who said that if I encountered a door, just try it and see what happens. A good metaphor for life, I think. As I walked along the path to the castle, there was a cracking view to the back of Arthur’s Seat, with the road neatly dissecting the hill in two. The summit, the Lion’s Peak and the Hellbank were in view and so was Salisbury Crags. The day was cloudy but still clear, as I was soon to see from the castle battlements. I have always liked the courtyard at Craigmillar, which is blessed by a tree and a bit of sunlight to go with the shelter afforded by the high curtain wall and the tower house. I had forgotten, though, how very complete Craigmillar is, since like Linlithgow Palace there are doors and stairs going everywhere. When I next came to the courtyard, I had been all the way round the rest of the castle.

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Courtyard

The views from the towers encompassed great swathes of the Lothians, to Blackford Hill, the Pentlands, Arthur’s Seat and Edinburgh. Particularly impressive was that I could see as far as North Berwick Law, some 23 miles away, and the Hopetoun Monument high in the Garletons nearer Haddington. Edinburgh city centre was particularly prominent, the Castle, St. Giles, Old College and the Balmoral Hotel clearly noticeable on the skyline. Despite being close to the city and road noise from the City Bypass clearly audible, the bird songs and calls were loud and long too, particularly from the West Garden where I sat later on making notes and looking across towards the P for Preston laid out in the grounds below.

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Edinburgh
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East Lothian
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P for Preston
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View from under the tree

Craigmillar is like most castles in Scotland in that it has links with Mary, Queen of Scots. She came twice, with her ladies who ride in 1563 and in 1566 when ‘ill with depression’ after the murder of her courtier David Rizzio not so far away at Holyrood. Apparently it was at Craigmillar that some of her supporters decided to do in Lord Darnley, the Queen’s consort, who had allegedly instructed that Rizzio be killed. As Kurt Vonnegut wrote, and so it goes. Craigmillar belonged to the Preston family and then the Gilmours, whose burial plot still remains to the eastern end of the castle. One of the more recent folk of that ilk put up an armourial panel in the courtyard marking the construction of the western part of the castle by his ancestor Sir John Gilmour, Lord President of the Court of Session, and his wife Margaret Cockburn in 1661. I doubt somehow that the present Lord President, Lord Carloway, has quite so stylish digs. The differently coloured stone visible from the western side of the castle, particularly around the foundations, show clear signs of the earlier buildings that once stood there. There are quite a few heraldic panels about the castle and they all speak of another time, of nobility and status symbols, as I suppose most castles and their architecture often were.

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Gilmour Panel in courtyard

I wasn’t alone in exploring the castle that afternoon. Indeed I jumped rather dramatically and accidentally into a French tourist’s photo as I clambered down from a seat in the hall. There was also a ginger cat wandering about the place, probably not a permanent resident but an urban wanderer on their rounds. My first encounter was when I jumped on hearing a meow come from just up the stair from where I stood in the hall. Historic Scotland allow dogs into most of their properties but I’ve never seen a cat before. Perhaps the pigeons that still live in some of the towers might be too tempting for a cat reluctantly used to Whiskas.

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Cat in the courtyard

For a while I got out of the habit of going to castles, not getting my Historic Scotland card dirty enough as I ventured instead into museums and galleries. Craigmillar was my second in a week, with Dunnottar last Saturday. I’ve been to Bothwell, Tantallon and Edinburgh in recent memory too. 2017 is the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology here in Scotland and it seems to be becoming one for me personally too, visiting more of the historic places that dot our landscape, some new, others more familiar. Craigmillar was a bit of both – my last visit came about five years ago on a freezing January Saturday and it was brief for that reason. This time was brilliant for lots of reasons – the chance to properly explore and rediscover as if new the finer reaches of the castle and its surroundings plus also just to imagine what had once gone down there. I was struck walking through one of the cellars by learning how grain and other produce was once stored there in vast quantities, having been given as rent. Castles are often thought about in terms of the great and good who lived there, more than those who lived around them or who owed fealty to those who dwelled there. They are places to read the past and to imagine the future, in the words of the current Scottish Library and Information Council promotion available in a library near you. At Craigmillar, neither was particularly hard to do.

 

 

Streets of Glasgow: Byres Road

There are some streets which as important as they are invariably seem less interesting than what lies around them. Byres Road, at the heart of Glasgow’s West End, often feels one of them, surrounded as it is by Ashton Lane and other lanes bearing markets and restaurants, plus the University and the Botanic Gardens. It is one of those streets that is quintessentially Glasgow, stylish, lined with red and golden sandstone buildings for most of its length. Glasgow is of course a complicated place, full of contradictions and imperfections, and Byres Road is one Glasgow of many. It is very different from the other side of the river or even a short distance in Maryhill, more prosperous and vibrant than elsewhere, not necessarily a bad thing, just different.

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I walked onto Byres Road around 3pm, straight from the Subway at Kelvinhall. My plan was to walk the length of Byres Road, sit in the Botanics for a bit and see where I got to after that. As I set off, I dawdled a bit, looking around me towards a car advertising the nearby TriBeCa cafe bar, not quite the New York taxi cab or the police car that often sits on Dumbarton Road. Glasgow has an American feel at times – I often feel it in the city centre looking towards the high buildings lining the straight streets – though it is quintessentially Scottish too, particularly when walking up Byres Road and looking towards the old school building in red sandstone with the Boys entrance clearly marked as in so many Victorian schoolhouses across the land. Byres Road, though, is very much in and of the West End and there are things there that would be seen nowhere else in the city, including a trendy chippy, a clothes shop with a jumper over the shoulders and a bulldog tied to a lamppost wearing a green neckerchief.

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As I waited to cross the road at the junction with Highburgh Road and University Avenue, I just stood and tried hard to take in what was happening around me. Two guys walked to stand beside me, one offering the advice that ‘What you need is some public affection’, though what that form that affection would take was lost to the winds when the lights turned green. There were parents and kids heading home from school, one child earnestly discussing what she had learned that day about Hitler. Sometimes when walking alone you cannot help but listen, not from a want of company but to understand other people and the world just that little bit better.

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Like on most of this city’s great streets, it is always worth looking up to imagine what once was. Above Nardini’s are the words ‘1876 Victoria Cross’, apparently a reminder of an old dispute when the city fathers wanted to rename the street after Queen Victoria, which didn’t ever quite happen. The back of the Western Infirmary, on the corner of Church Street, with crests and finely worked details around the windows, is also worth looking at, particularly when waiting at the traffic lights waiting to cross the road, invariably the best time to pause and look around and very often up.

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Byres Road isn’t a street I am massively fond of. It isn’t the prettiest in the city, neither is it the most historically or architecturally interesting. It can be hipsterish in many respects, incurably and insufferably middle-class, which makes it so much harder for me to relate to the place. But I don’t dislike it. It has some great music and book shops, plus it is very close to some of the best places in the city, Kelvingrove and the Hunterian, the Botanics, plus it also has some very interesting inhabitants. Walking its length was an insight into a Glasgow I don’t see very often, with its infinite varieties of people, shops and entertainments, in short a city of kaleidoscopic difference. It brings to mind the quote from Peter McDougall, which I have by my bed as I write this:

‘Glasgow is not a geographical site; it’s a state of mind’.

After this walk, Glasgow very much remains my state of mind, today as four years ago when this first became my geographic site. It will hopefully remain for a long time to come.

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Dunnottar Castle

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Dunnottar Castle

There is a wonderful resource called the Dictionary of the Scots Language providing definitions for thousands of words from all across the country. Its definition of ‘haar’ is:

‘A cold mist or fog, gen. used on the east coast for a sea-mist’

When I left Glasgow yesterday morning, it was cold, wet and drizzly. It was the first rain I had seen in a fortnight so my reaction wasn’t downcast rather to point out to my family the strange wet stuff coming out of the sky. As the bus got further north towards Aberdeen, it became foggier and foggier, particularly when we reached the point when the A90 begins to hug the coast nearer Stonehaven. A haar and no mistake. That was the point when I could have changed my mind, stuck to Aberdeen and supposedly less dismal pursuits. But I didn’t. I persevered anyway. I had travelled 130-plus miles and I wasn’t going home without first paying a visit to Dunnottar, even if I couldn’t see 30 feet in front of my face.

From Aberdeen, I got another bus to take me back south again to Stonehaven. The bus did go to the road end at Dunnottar but I felt like a walk. Plus Stonehaven is a handsome seaside town, particularly the bit by the harbour with its stout stone buildings. Even with the haar, there were bairns playing in the water as the waves lapped up to the shore and folks sitting on benches watching and looking out. I ducked up a wynd and a steep slope towards the coastal path. I wasn’t the only one, meeting a steady stream of other people heading in the other direction. One reason why they were was the fact I could see absolutely fuck all, not even the War Memorial that sits high atop the hill facing the castle, but I could still hear the waves, proper pebbly waves, and that intensified their power. In the absence of much other visual stimuli, my perception and appreciation of them was intensified too and it was truly beautiful. I grew up by the sea so a thick haar is hardly unfamiliar to me. I’ve learned to appreciate the beauty in the dimness. The waves down below were just visible and they were fierce, whipping up a broth of foam as they crashed over the rocks.

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War Memorial, post-haar
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Your actual waves

When I reached Dunnottar, I walked down the steps though I could barely see the rock and nothing else. It made it more dramatic, particularly the Whig Vault, where Covenanters were imprisoned following a revolt in 1685, 122 men and 45 women. In there a large window gave a view across huge rocks bedecked with seabirds and an even stormier broth of a sea. The castle was still surprisingly busy as I walked around, different accents and languages, even some Scots, still present even with the mist. Dunnottar is also where the Honours of Scotland were fought over in 1650 during the brief rule by Cromwell and the English Parliament. The Crown, Sceptre and Sword were taken from Edinburgh Castle but eventually hidden in Kinneff Kirk up the road until Charles II assumed the throne and Cromwell got posthumously hanged for his trouble.

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The view from the Whig’s Vault
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Whig’s Vault

After a bit, I looked up and saw the sun trying to force its way through the haar, looking for all the world like a brighter, shinier moon. I proceeded to walk back around the castle again as I was able to see more of the cliffs and surroundings around me, even that war memorial on the hill, seemingly intentionally incomplete. The thought had occurred to me already to come back again regardless but it was nice to get the balance of the haar and the hazy blue sky that soon came.

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Coat of arms to mark marriage of the 7th Earl Marischal to Elizabeth Seaton
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Sundial
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This alone was worth the trip

Dunnottar Castle is justly one of the most prominent castles in Scotland. When I was talking about this visit, several people had spoken about their past visits or how they longed to go. It is a beautiful place, though one with a lot of substance too. I have been to a lot of castles in my time and there are some that are beautiful and insubstantial – Edinburgh comes to mind, since as fine a place though it is, the best bit is the view to other places. Urquhart might be another. It is a fine ruin though its location on Loch Ness makes it much more popular than it might otherwise be. Dunnottar combines its incredible surroundings with a formidable past. It suited my mood, since the 17th century is one of the most interesting to study of Scotland’s story, of the Union of the Crowns, Charles I and Cromwell, Darien and the lead up to the Union. Plus of course the Covenanters seeking religious freedom. Visiting places like Dunnottar made me interested in history in the first place and it’s why I will be going back to my degree next year to get it finished and learn some more along the way.

I took my time walking back up the steps from the castle, trying to find the best angle for a photograph of the castle on the cliff and one where I wouldn’t have people in the shot. The headland to my right had about five or six folk with cameras doing the same thing. I decided not to join them. From the bus stop I could still just see the castle, low on the horizon over the fields. As I got on the bus and it powered towards Stonehaven, I was rewarded with one last view across to the War Memorial with the castle peeking behind, another reason why it’s worth just going anyway, even if at first the weather doesn’t fit.

 

Glasgow Women’s Library

I’ve never met a library I haven’t liked. I’ve been in many of them, worked in more than a few too, and in each one I ever visit, I always feel the same sense of contentment in the presence of collected knowledge. I never feel anxious in a library but that might be because of my background working in them as well as the still sense of order in each one.

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Recently I went to the Glasgow Women’s Library, which sits in Bridgeton in the East End. The GWL has been on my radar for a while – what I heard of its work, from colleagues and library users, impressed me immensely. Libraries open up worlds for people that they didn’t know existed and the GWL has a very broad collection of works by female writers as well as museum and archive collections on politics, lesbian issues and the National Museum of Roller Derby. They also provide outreach sessions and workshops for women from all sorts of backgrounds on all sorts of things. All this I was broadly aware of before I walked into the place but what I was struck by was its friendliness. Within moments, my friend and I were welcomed, offered a cup of tea and whisked away for a tour. Many people have an image of libraries as rather forbidding, unapproachable sorts of places and those who work in them as much the same, a perception many of us are trying our hardest to change. The GWL lives up to its credo as expressed on the A-frame at the door: ‘We Are Open To Everyone’. Even me, the only guy in the place, a fact I only noticed well into the time we were there.

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The tour included the museum store, all climate-controlled as befits a collection which is recognised as a nationally significant collection by the Scottish Government. JA and I are both museum geeks so getting into a store with its boxes all carefully accessioned and labelled is a rare treat. The mezzanine level houses some of the older and rarer books, including one I spotted about Jane Welsh Carlyle, wife of the Victorian intellectual Thomas Carlyle and a writer and thinker in her own right. Jane hailed from Haddington in East Lothian, in fact the house where she was born is across a narrow close from the town’s library.

The main lending library was naturally where I had to be next, to look at their collection, which wasn’t organised by Dewey, rather by subject with Drama, Poetry and Politics rather than a series of numbers with a decimal point attached for good measure. The books were kept in place with blocks marked with the names of writers, though most poignantly the Politics section had a block bearing the name of Jo Cox, the MP who was assassinated last year. I saw lots of books I would have loved to just sit and read, including a biography of the very versatile and prolific Scottish writer Naomi Mitchison. Time, alas, precludes such pleasures.

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Nan Shepherd wrote that ‘it is a grand thing to get leave to live’. Libraries give us leave to live. One of the greatest pleasures of being in a library is having your mind blown by something you read. Even better still is working in a library because of the people you find there, the kind that boil the blood as much as those who become more like friends. Libraries are open to everyone and I have never failed to feel comfortable in any of them I’ve ever encountered. Not everyone feels that way and that must change. The Glasgow Women’s Library is a truly special place and I am proud that this city, my city, is its home. Their work in sharing literature and stories makes people feel part of something, a movement, a collective where no one is alone. Theirs is an open door in an often closed world. It must be cherished and celebrated, now more than ever.

Thanks for reading. In the next couple of months, I will be publishing the 300th post here on Walking Talking. To celebrate that milestone, I would like to open it up to suggestions. If anyone has any suggestions for the 300th post, put them in the comments box or contact me in another way if you know how. We have one suggestion already but I am open to others.

The close season

It’s been quite a year so far. I haven’t been as far as I would have liked to have gone but a lot has happened personally and professionally. I work full time now and that has a lot of benefits as well as the flaw that I have less time to roam and wander. Some of this blog’s posts recently have been informed by chance glances and snatched moments for walks when I’ve been places for other reasons, like Around the Holy GroundStreets of Glasgow: Buchanan Street and The view from the McDermid Stand.

The football season finished yesterday and while that makes me sad in one sense, I am also excited by the prospect of a fair few free Saturdays in the near future when I am not constrained by the fixture list to head for Easter Road or a provincial football ground a decent bus hurl away. In fact since I started writing this post, I have just booked a day trip for this coming Saturday. It will take me to Aberdeen. Not to be there for long, rather I will go a wee bit further down the coast to Dunnottar Castle, just outside Stonehaven. I have just gathered from Traveline that I can get a bus straight from Guild Street Bus Station in Aberdeen right to the road end for Dunnottar, which is just dandy. Dunnottar is excellent, a real ruined castle sitting on a promontory jutting into the North Sea. Plus it has a great history too, used as a prison for Covenanters plus the church nearby was where the Crown Jewels were hidden when Cromwell was about.

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Aberdeen
At this current moment, Hibs will be back in the Premiership next season so trips to Aberdeen, Motherwell and Kilmarnock will replace those to Dunfermline (steak bridies no more), Kirkcaldy and Greenock. I will look forward to those, particularly to the more far-flung locales. I haven’t been to a fair few Premiership grounds, including Firhill here in Glasgow, Inverness, Dingwall or even Dens Park in Dundee as written about here. In the meantime, though, the close season is now upon us and I am looking forward to Dunnottar and all the other places I will get to along the way. I don’t think I will plan too far into the future so there’s a bit of serendipity involved, a case of just picking a bus or train and going. When there hasn’t been a lot of scope for that this year, the prospect cheers me greatly, almost as much as Premiership football, in fact.

 

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.

 

 

 

Wanderlust

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This photograph was taken a couple of weeks ago when I was in the John Muir Country Park, near Dunbar. It stars in the post Ingrained but I wanted to post it again for this week’s WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge, which is on the subject of ‘Wanderlust’. This particular scene shows a path in a woodland but to me it conjures up walking that bit further, crossing the next horizon, because it is there. John Muir, for whom the Country Park was named, wrote that so many people are scared of the woods when really they are places full of wonder and interest. I walked through these particular woods a lot when I was a kid and I was there again recently. I still could have walked them with my eyes shut. I live many miles away now and I have been to many other places in these islands. But my wanderlust started there.

If you haven’t been to my particular corner of the Internet before, welcome! I post fairly often about any number of different things. Recent posts have included What the…?Writing about autismThe Battery and Notes From Walnut Tree Farm.