Tuesday, 12 December 2017
As I've been through to Paisley several times in the past few months I thought I'd do a gallery on Scotland's largest town and hopeful UK City of Culture 2021 bidder in the run up to Christmas. Originally there were eleven towns and cities in the draw which soon got whittled down to five- Swansea, Paisley, Stoke on Trent, Sunderland and Coventry. It's a big tempting prize to play for as previous winners Londonderry and Hull experienced major investment projects and up to one billion pounds generated in funding and revenue for ongoing social and economic regeneration. In the end, despite Paisley being the bookies favourite the title went to Coventry but that's not why I,m doing this post.
It does still have a legacy of amazing architecture though and is well worth a visit. Dozens of new colourful murals have sprung up around the town over the last year but I'll cover them in another post. This one is devoted to Paisley's Christmas lights.
As my last light show walk along the banks of the River Clyde a few posts ago was apparently a big hit with friends Anne and Belinda I now had others in tow. Three young children called Rachel, James and Sam and two other adults- Jean and Peter. I was now a semi official tour guide to Paisley's City of Culture highlights so the pressure was on to show them the best the town had to offer.
Like any large town I'm sure Paisley has some anti- social elements in it but if you wander round between 4:00 pm and 7:00 pm when it's still busy with shoppers it has a safe and friendly feel. Even late on I've never experienced any problems in Paisley just wandering around.
Thursday, 7 December 2017
On our bothy trip to Tunskeen, Carrick and Galloway forest districts we had to pass through the pretty village of Straiton to get there. This was created as a model village in the mid 1700s , a pet project by a local earl and it shows in the neat street layout and uniform style of the white washed cottages. As many of Ayrshire's inland villages were built to serve long gone coal mines where money was needed for day to day essentials rather than improving the surrounding scenery this area and village has a very different vibe when contrasted with nearby Dalmellington, Bellsbank or Patna- former coal mining community's now surrounded by bleak scarred hillsides or blanket pine forestry. Strictly utilitarian housing and landscaping resides here, although, as a mere visitor, I've always admired the open plan bleak honest austerity of these other villages as well and have enjoyed walking around them over many years. Interesting industrial mining relics around Waterside and a coal heap park/ bing in Dalmellington. Very reminiscent of my own happy childhood during the 'good old days' in the pub heavy, hard punching, hard drinking, former old mining village of Nitshill in the 1960s or indeed any other similar communities worldwide during current bleak times or future bleak times to come. Not pessimism just cold reality.
Anyway, its a lovely golden bubble this area around Straiton, in an otherwise unremarkable rural or small scale post industrial landscape and largely left behind inland village economies. From numerous trips I believe that to be a fair and accurate assessment of this inland district of Ayrshire as an outsider to the area looking in, but if I'm totally wrong feel free to correct me. I always try to get it right in my musings and travels and present an unvarnished but hopefully balanced view. In the 50 years or so I've been around to observe them, former industrial areas, ex- coal mining villages and many coastal towns do not usually experience much of an upswing in fortunes once the industry or tourist numbers evaporate. Not in small places like this anyway. However, lovely hills surround and shelter Straiton village and on one sits a tall prominent monument to an Ayrshire MP and dead solider from long ago. This is the hill we intended to climb.
Finally, without being prompted, John was keen to climb this modest 1000 foot pimple... albeit because he had a temporary injury to his leg and the larger hills were out for now. At last a chance to get up there presented itself. Everything, eventually, comes to he or she who waits, apparently. If not it's a solo mission.
Here's a very good local link to the walks and cycles in this area, an interactive map with photos and a proper history of the district. Worth a look.
Instead of a video here's three cracking books I've read and really enjoyed that I'd imagine anyone would appreciate getting in their Xmas stocking. All have been best sellers, have won other awards, and get largely positive five star reviews.
A Place Called Freedom by Ken Follett. A young Scottish miner in the mid 1700s rebels then embarks on a epic journey against brutal living conditions and a life of slavery down the pit that will eventually take him to London then America. Well researched fantastic page turner that left a deep impression on me of life at that time.
A Tap on The Window by Linwood Barclay. Situated near the Canadian/USA border and the Great Lakes this is an excellent modern crime story in a memorable setting. I've read loads of fictional crime novels over the years as its a very dominant and successful genre for writers but this one stands out from the surrounding pack. Great story- really well constructed- moves like a galloping racehorse without any slow moments at all.
Before the Poison by Peter Robinson. A successful music composer returns to the Yorkshire Dales of his childhood- buys a house there then slowly becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to the former female owner and her mysterious death. Quite simply one of the best, most haunting books out there. Haunting not in ghost terms but only that the memory of this fine story might well stay with you for life... as might all three books on this list. A no 1 bestselling crime novel and crime thriller award winner.
All three are brilliant, no rude bits or swearing in them, and should appeal to most folk, irrespective of age- around 15 to 90.
Sunday, 3 December 2017
A couple of weeks ago I received an invite to go on a weekend bothy trip and jumped at the chance. It was my old friend John who I've known for several decades now and we've climbed many Munros together as well as European mountain ranges and backpacking trips, home and abroad. This isn't us... just two folk passing on mountain bikes but I rarely miss a good photo opportunity these days when I spot one occurring. The Carrick and Galloway areas, which run into each other, are really good for mountain bike excursions with a network of forestry trails, like the one shown, and a handful of scattered bothies in what is mainly a pine forest, moor, and mountain setting.
Speaking of which I watched a fascinating programme recently on TV about the extraordinary Gobekli Tepe in modern day Turkey- the world's oldest known megalithic stone circles which predate Stonehenge by over 6,000 years and could well be the inspiration behind the Garden of Eden story in the bible. According to experts who have excavated and studied this remarkable site it marks a turning point in our own distant past when nomadic hunter- gatherers first changed into static farmers growing crops- which would fix them in one place to tend then harvest them but also leave communities highly vulnerable to natural disasters via famine, floods, back breaking toil for nothing, droughts and death if the crops failed. To put the time scale into some kind of context Stonehenge to the present day is a shorter period of human evolution and time than Stonehenge is to the five metre high limestone blocks situated here. Many of the tall pillars are also exquisitely carved with a range of exotic animals and perplexing symbols from a time when early man was supposed to be scrabbling in the dirt for survival then dating women by grunts, large clubs and hair- dragging romantic gestures to the nearest cave. In short it rips up the rule book on what our notions of early history should be like 11,000 years ago. Good link here if you have never heard of this amazing discovery of giant stone circles buried on a hill top. Academic opinions vary of course as to its importance but most now agree it is something really unique.
Keeping with the ancient theme here's a borders folk song from the distant past. A tale of dark magic, shamanistic pagan beliefs linked to animal spirits, natural 'changeling' herbs and plants found in every culture, and the eternal struggle between man and woman for power and dominance in any relationship. An old song I've linked to before years ago but very topical and an absolutely cracking guitar and dual singing performance in keeping with this traditional feeling post.
Wednesday, 29 November 2017
Normally I'd run a mile if anyone asked me to go out on a Christmas shopping trip but the caller was Belinda's mum Anne so I said yes. Above is Frasers Department Store in Glasgow's Argyle Street, which occupies the same 'head of department stores' slot as Jenners in Edinburgh. While we were shopping (yawn :o) the trip to see the Christmas lights in Edinburgh last year was mentioned and the observation that the lights there were much better, now that they'd seen both sets to compare. I had not seen much of Belinda and Anne since that time as both have their own circle of friends but recently we had reconnected again.
Radisson Hotel on Argyle Street. Right next to this a brand new hotel is under construction. One thing about Glasgow is that there's always new buildings rising and falling year by year. An exciting component of any large city. Glasgow certainly has loads of hotels.
Anne also commented on the fact that nothing had changed since last Christmas with dozens of beggars dotted around the main shopping streets, some now in tents on the pavements, as it has been below zero this month. People have been giving them money, hence sleeping bags, food and pop up tents but should it really be ordinary people's burden to shoulder? A recent documentary on Panorama about VAT showed that online shopping services from overseas are destroying UK jobs here by undercutting and exploiting VAT loopholes to the tune of over one billion every year that should have went to the taxpayer. I can see why a cashless society and online shopping benefits large companies as it means far less staff employed and higher profits but what does society get out of it in the long run? Services are still getting cut every year and with nearly all the public toilets closed where do all the homeless go to the toilet every day? Surely that's a public health hazard for every city and a mini humanitarian crisis right there not to mention people dying on the streets when they succumb to the cold, disease, and putting people off their own Christmas cheer but the political will to do anything appears to be absent currently with most of the homeless units full or shut due to cutbacks. Homelessness has apparently risen by 120 percent in the UK since 2010 and the very visible evidence of that is apparent on every shopping street.
It turned out this wasn't a major shopping trip after-all with just a few stores visited then a gallery show ( which I enjoyed, thank you) as Belinda's a big fan of graphic and unusual art, as am I. If you wonder what we have in common it's that. We get each other artistically... and that's not an everyday occurrence with people you meet... in fact it's very rare.
"You should do this for a living." I was told by my shivering companions. "You're a natural tour guide."
"Too cold and weather dependent for much profit. Health and safety risk. Very short season." I replied. "I'm surprised hotels don't offer it though- or maybe they do? I am available at a cheap price."
"So I've heard." quipped Belinda.
A lovely video to go with it. A Modern Classic. Fantastic seascape visuals in this. Best viewed full screen.