Sunday, 15 January 2017

Port of Leith. Ships. Monuments. History.

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A dazzle ship at Port of Leith docks. Due to the success of U- boats during WW11 and the number of causalities and ships sunk at sea, painting the remainder in bright colours as a form of reverse camouflage in the style of zebras and other animals was seen as a tactic to confuse the enemy, hopefully converting torpedo direct hits to near misses. It was thought that they might confuse the range, speed, distance and outline of allied shipping but according to the info boards there is not much evidence that it actually worked. But they had to do something and boost flagging morale... so it might have worked that way.
A view down Leith Walk. As I mentioned before two posts ago I skipped New Year in Edinburgh to spend it quietly in Glasgow. I have never seen the point of New Year since childhood- all that anticipation and waiting throughout the day for a few minutes of drunken flash, bang, and sometimes wallop... handshakes, hugs or kisses... then the inevitable anti climax hangover the next morning. No thanks.
What I did fancy was to catch the end of Belinda and Anne's (her Mum) holiday trip in Edinburgh before they came back through to Glasgow. So once again a short time after New Year with the transport running normally again I boarded the Glasgow -Edinburgh bus in the early morning and made my way through there to hook up with them for a day of sightseeing and fun.
I'd timed it perfectly from my point of view as I wasn't keen on spending money on expensive city centre attractions I'd already been in years ago when prices were much cheaper than they are now. Fortunately, Belle and Anne had splurged out to see the city centre attractions and had also indulged in various shopping and eating out treats so by the time I came through they'd done the city centre district thoroughly for now and were more easily swayed towards different, cheaper options...and views... as they were both skint and stuffed :o)
I suggested a trip to Edinburgh's main and only city port which was reached by a short bus ride down Leith Walk. Edinburgh-especially at New Year- can feel slightly claustrophobic as the city centre pedestrian numbers almost double in size and volume at that time with nearly every nationality represented in the babel of different languages flowing around you on the crowded pavements. It's fair to say that Leith is more downmarket than Princes Street but like all the outer districts it's where you find Edinburgh's real citizen's hanging out and it does have its own special attractions... and they are mostly free. Yippee!
The water of Leith (a small river flowing right through the city) and its popular walkway/cycle-track, reach the sea here at the port which has been modernized and redeveloped in the last 15 years. This river front together with six large individual docks turn Leith into a mini Venice in places. It also explains why Glasgow and Edinburgh look so different in style, attitude and architecture despite being just over 30 miles apart. West coast Glasgow faces America and in the days of sailing ships most of its fortune and trade started out there along with its influences. East coast Edinburgh faces  Europe and the Baltic States and even today you can see their influence in the architecture all around you. I'm sure it also influenced the world of Harry Potter in some fashion as J K Rowling lived in Leith in the early stages of the books, obviously knows Edinburgh very well, and you can see that in the films with various backdrops of tall thin houses,
Not that different from Amsterdam... or is it just my imagination?
The town of Leith itself is worth a wander round with many interesting old buildings on show to demonstrate the wealth that used to routinely flow through this area. Leith Walk is also a long, fairly stately and vibrant shopping street for much of its length with an individual history all its own that could easily fill a book. All I can provide here is just a few brief snapshots.
Robert Burns travelled and stayed in Edinburgh to promote his work once it started to become better known outside of his native Ayrshire. This monument with its ornate decorative panels is also seen in the photo above this one in larger view. The subject is playing blind man's bluff in a traditional Victorian household presumably... although in the modern era this just looks like a friendly neighbour/ pedophile brought in to catch the child on the floor but also giving her a sporting chance of escape. At least that was Belinda's opinion of it on close inspection. I'm just old enough to remember playing this as a child myself.

Also in the full street photo above is the 19th century corn exchange with its distinctive tower and  elevated lengthy panel of child workers. "What do they signify?" I was asked by my companions. I had to confess I hadn't a clue and made something up about Leith only using child labour on the docks in the old days. " Life was hard then and as you died at 40 it was better to start them young and get more out of them for longer before they snuffed it."
" They do look very mature for their age." Belinda commented, laughing then pointing to the spot where she was looking.
"No, that's a shoe or a hand." Her mother scolded after squinting up at the panel. "You are terrible."
She then turned to me. "take a zoom of that so we can send it to my friend. That's funny."
 I eventually found the real explanation for the child figures, see link above. That's why I love exploring places as you learn so much about the history of everything and educate yourself in the process. I did know about 'Putti' but only as winged cherubs in religious paintings and not as depicted here in a long line of workers as the only subject matter. I wouldn't be surprised if this particular style and display is unique in the UK. Again an influence from European/ Italian art. I have seen examples in Glasgow but in a much more conventional setting sitting on the shoulders of someone important or in the background, flying around.
We struck it lucky on our visit to Leith docks as many different ships were tied up here at the same time giving us plenty to look at. Well known artist Antony Gormley placed six of his person shaped statues along the Water of Leith walkway in the river itself and this is the last in that line, looking out to sea.
A massive modern offshore support ship was also berthed here registered out of Nassau in the Bahamas of all places. Deep Arctic. As of the 15th Jan 2017 it was heading out past the Shetlands and Orkney Islands towards the Faroe group so we were lucky to see it here. Incidentally, this name got me thinking  about some of the things I've read recently concerning ice melting rapidly at both poles year on year and a possible new frontier opening up in the far north in previously unattainable frozen wastes. This could maybe explain one of the reasons behind the billionaires that are queuing up behind Donald Trump and an apparent thawing out of Russian relations as these days it's all about oil, thinking ahead, and the superpowers carving up dwindling resources around the planet. Forget the wall and immigration- that's the usual smoke and mirrors trick for the hopeful masses. Very impressive big beast this. It might also explain the climate change deniers outlook despite the vast majority of scientific opinion and on the ground research stating the opposite. If current climate trends continue the arctic is up for grabs- sadly for any wildlife  or humans in the way. As the old saying goes... just follow the money trail to reveal any truth.
Always liked this monument and memorial to the Merchant Navy around the world for its clever yet simple depiction panels. Suez, Egypt,  and the desert countries here.
Hong Kong Harbour.
Info board telling you what each panel is about.
Where it is situated. Leith waterfront.
Leith docklands. Much more open and spacious than the city centre district and both Belle and her mum enjoyed their day out as it was all new ground for them.
And a suitably Gothic sunset greeted us on our return to Edinburgh's West End district where they were staying.
Edinburgh. So much to see. My love letter... to it.. here.

For another muse and equally delightful inspiration. Every artist needs one... or two.
Fantastic graphics best watched full screen. Thanks for the invite girls.


Sunday, 8 January 2017

Arthur's Seat. Raven Tongue. Sunset Silhouettes.

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One of the reasons I was determined to go to Edinburgh over the Christmas period to see the festive lights was this... I'd already been with Alan and his dog on Arthur's Seat in mid December 2016 and had a long range glimpse of what was on offer around Princes Street, with tiny figures milling around far below. I realized then it looked good to visit and there was also the fact it had been years since I 'd explored the city centre district properly- all my other visits concentrated on Edinburgh's many hills, volcanic plugs, cycle trips through the outskirts, canals or 'colourful' housing schemes few tourists would wish to go.
As Alan had been to Edinburgh but had never visited Arthur's Seat before I lost no time in going there. 'Seize the Day!' I always say... usually with my hands around a victim's throat. ( I've been reading a lot of crime novels recently at night and it's affecting my writing :o) This is Hibs Football Club and North East Edinburgh around Leith viewed from Arthur's Seat.
Edinburgh Castle. Again...
Holyrood Palace.. or more properly Palace of Holyroodhouse.
Swingers having fun in Edinburgh. Balmoral Hotel Clock Tower. This five star hotel used to be the North British Station Hotel and is on the cover of Neil Young's Decade triple album. J.K. Rowling famously finished the last Harry Potter book here and the room she stayed in then is still available at £1000 a night. Reputedly, Edinburgh is the most expensive UK city to live in after London.
 At the opposite end of the scale we passed a guy who was on hunger strike outside the Scottish Parliament Building (seen above in middle of photo in dark grey and white ) to highlight the plight of Edinburgh's homeless. A former teacher who had been homeless himself in the past we didn't know who he was at the time when we spotted him but I later read he had been taken into hospital after 24 days sleeping out with no food- just water.
I feel like I couldn't give a complete and accurate picture of Edinburgh unless I mention that we did notice dozens of rough sleepers begging on the streets during my city centre trips here and just like Glasgow a couple of months ago practically every street corner in both cities had one sitting with a cup or hat on the pavement. Some of them were surprisingly young.. mere teenagers- mostly boys but with an occasional girl. Belinda, her Mum, and myself also observed that they didn't go off to a hostel after nightfall but just curled up in sleeping bags in the middle of thousands of people celebrating Christmas and New Year and went to sleep. I wondered at first why they picked such a busy visible stretch of pavement with thousands of passing tourists to fall asleep beside then it dawned on me that any place quieter without witnesses might leave them open to physical attack or sexual abuse after dark. Competition to keep the best pitches for earning money from passing tourists might also be a factor in them staying put in the one spot. If I had to do that all winter I might just turn to drink and drugs myself, even if previously sober and reliable. I'm being honest here as it's not a life... it's just grim pain- filled existence from one day to the next with zero hope.

When you shop on the outskirts in retail parks, like we do usually for the last 20 years, you don't really see beggars much anymore, or maybe just the odd one or two. Even in my youth as a child we always had beggars in the city centre but they were usually old men with severe drink problems. Between both cities now you are well into the homeless hundreds by the look of it and it seems rather disappointing in 2016/17 to have so many folk living on a knife edge sleeping rough. I know hostel places have been cut in many parts of the UK due to budget restrictions, homelessness is up 30 percent in England... and Scotland seems similar going by what we observed.. and it's not just migrants but local folk as well... probably due in large part to the ongoing government benefit sanctions. Austerity means austerity... but if this is people "just about getting by" I'm very glad I'm not one of them. I'd imagine life expectancy is not that high for a rough sleeper of any age but happily there never seems to be any shortage of new recruits to replace them. It's an important growth industry for our country and not one you can easily ignore when it is so prevalent in many towns and cities UK wide.
Anyway, back to picture postcard land. Red Sky at Night at minus 5 below. A pavement view in sunny Glasgow.
Meanwhile, on Arthur's Seat, I decided I would pass up the chance of a £1000 hotel room for one night and just speak 'Raven Tongue' instead...this is Harry Potter land after all... and it worked. Within five minutes we had 21 young ravens playing with Alan's Dog. I was also inspired to create some sunset silhouettes after posting the excellent creative selfie video seen on here last week.
A T Rex.
Tropical Swamp and T Rex hunting.
A tasty snack. Four good efforts I think and no cardboard used at all.
A tightly packed Edinburgh unfolds below our feet.
Typical back street lanes off the Canongate on the way up Calton Hill through the old graveyard.
St Andrew's House where the Scottish Government officials carry out their business. Supposed to be
Art Deco influenced when it was built in the 1930s but it owes just as much I think to German and Russian architecture from the Hitler- Stalin era. Certainly wouldn't look out of place in Berlin or Moscow.. or a Leni Riefenstahl film.
Calton Hill. It's not as easy getting up onto this structure as it looks and many have tried then failed. Thankfully, Alan was a winner here.
More Ravens having fun.
Dancing with dogs. Eventually Alan's mutt realized he would never catch them. He also accepted with a puzzled bewilderment that they were undoubtedly smarter. Even after he gave up and went off in a sulk they still nipped his tail or sat near him provocatively, wanting him to play. As he is a bouncy dog when he is fresh I thanked them for tiring him out as he slept happily all the way back in the car, his wee tail wagging at the memory.

Video this week is mountain bike trick artist Danny MacAskill as his videos are always works of  visual art, great Scottish scenery and feats of extraordinary ability combined. None of it is faked and the broken bones, sprains and bruises occasionally collected performing the jumps are very real.

An additional short video one of the guys in the club found on the internet. Is it real?... or is this just 'fake news'?... or is it genuine facts presented in a non histrionic manner? Does anyone even care what's fact or fiction anymore in the modern era? You decide.
Thank you technology for making our existence far less complicated and educating the masses towards enlightenment. You are truly a gift to the human race :o)

Monday, 2 January 2017

Happy New Year. Edinburgh's Christmas Lights.

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 For a few years now I've been intending to visit Edinburgh at Christmas to see the lights but other things have always got in the way. I now have my over 60s bus pass-National Entitlement Card which allows me (and Alex, who got his last year) to travel anywhere in Scotland for free on buses. What an amazing Christmas present. Yippee! (I hasten to add I won't be travelling around with Alex much on buses as he's totally hill walk orientated and I  plan to use mine to visit cities and towns which he has little interest in doing.)
As my friend 'Belinda' and her 'I'm up for anything' mum were going through to Edinburgh to take in the world famous Hogmanay street party and were intending to stay there for a week's holiday afterwards, I got an open invite and jumped at the chance to meet up with my lovely little slippery serpent again. (What? It's all in her name- look it up. I of course am 'bright in fame or valour'. Yippee. Lucky me again. What can I say about that outcome? Well, shit just seems happens when you're a woman  :o)
I didn't fancy the New Year celebrations myself as I tend to avoid stuff like that but I did fancy going through a couple of days beforehand just to reacquaint myself with the city centre district and see the lights. Above is the Christmas Market in Princes Street Gardens with the Royal Mile district behind.
Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh from Princes Street direction. With its ancient volcano (seen here) rising in the very heart of this east coast city and its magnificent skyline of centuries old tall tenements, towers and spires climbing up a slope to the castle like a fossilized volcanic comet with its long sweeping tail lighting up the sky behind it, this is one of most scenically impressive cities in the world.
Another view of the market with the Royal Mile as a backdrop.
Add in Edinburgh Castle...
and Calton Hill, seen here...both heights made up of volcanic basalt plugs and you have a truly extraordinary city. Yet I know many folk in Glasgow who haven't made the one hour trip by public or private transport through here. I love the place. I could easily take hundreds of photographs here... and did.
Let's see....Belinda and her mum... or Edinburgh. As a keen snapper it was extremely hard to divide my attention between them all and keep both happy. A real challenge in fact.

 This is the Cowgate in the old town around the Castle. Auld Reekie (on the sign below the udders) is the old nickname for Edinburgh with its packed narrow streets and tall tenements. Some of these go up ten floors high making them some of the first stone built hi rises in the world for living in.(as opposed to temples, pyramids,shrines etc.)
Great short history of the Cowgate here.

As seen here in this photo with other levels hidden below ground as well. A good example of that is Mary King's Close halfway up the Royal Mile and open to the public. An underground warren of ancient dark streets, long abandoned and sealed off after the plague then rediscovered and reopened for tourists to enjoy and explore. Well worth a visit and a unique experience.
Scott Monument. Jenners department store ( in red) and the Skyride.
A closer view of this fun-fair attraction which seemed to be doing a roaring trade. I suspected as much before I came through here but Edinburgh at Christmas is far more energetic and lively than Glasgow, despite having a smaller population. 75,000 people attend the New Year street party each year from all over the world so that must bring in a huge amount of revenue. Glasgow nowadays, in some ways, feels to me like the poor relation sitting around the one bar fire with a bare 60 watt bulb above. I do know both cities fairly well over many years and trips in all seasons so this is not just a snap judgement although according to a recent travel firm report Glasgow is also booming as a holiday hotspot these days. Edinburgh just feels very modern and vibrant although Glasgow has more tourist attractions to explore for free. For example Edinburgh Castle at £16:50 for an adult and £13:20 concession seems a bit steep which is why I've only ever been in it as a youngster on my first visit here with my parents. If you have demanding children £100 pounds can slip through your fingers very easily in this beguiling city.
I may have been beguiled and in the company of two fair females but my wallet was, as usual, reluctant to escape its dungeon. I would instead act as an unpaid tour guide around the city. (more of which later.)
The Dome in George Street in the heart of Edinburgh's New Town. Built in the classical style of grand architecture laid out in the late 1700s to 1800s in a grid pattern with sylvan squares and parkland ovals to increase the feeling of luxury and space this district lies immediately north of Princes Street.
The Dome was once home to a prominent Scottish bank HQ but is now an upmarket restaurant, bar and nightclub facility known for its Christmas decorations around the pillars.
The new Edinburgh tram system. This ran well over budget and time constraints during construction... much like the Scottish Parliament building but any city with trams gracing its streets surely has another tourist ace in the deck to play with. Cyclists are not so keen on it however as many have been caught out with wheels falling or jamming into the slots of the tracks. It does take some getting used to and something I've had to look out for myself- both as a cyclist and as a pedestrian.
Jenners and the funfair. Jenners was built in the 1830s and ended up as Scotland's oldest independent department store. I believe it's now run by House of Fraser group, which makes Frasers in Glasgow's Buchanan Street its sister store as they serve much the same purpose in being the prestigious top end front runner on the high street in both cities. With so much sparkling competition nearby they have wisely opted for an understated yet elegant red hue which is very effective.
The old Edinburgh. Tenement land near the Royal Mile from  Waverley Station.
Princes Street Gardens. Christmas Market and funfair.
More attractions and Canongate district.
The Playhouse Theatre. Leith Walk. Part two of this Edinburgh tour to follow shortly....

Keeping with the visual theme here's a fantastic short video that is really worth a watch. Art, entertainment, and sheer brilliance rolled into one.  I can't believe there's only 112 views on You Tube for this. But then again Vincent Van Gogh never sold any of his paintings in his lifetime which says it all really... we often celebrate and worship bland mediocrity far more than any original thinking or craft.