Sunday 29 June 2014

Glasgow. Street Art and Sculptures. Pale Man Video.

St Vincent Street Fa├žade
I had to go into Glasgow City Centre a few times recently on the hunt for a couple of obscure books I was after so I took my trusty camera along. Glasgow has so many old buildings in a range of ornate styles but most folk just pass by without a glance upwards at the detail on the rooftops. Mind you, nowadays the majority of pedestrians are so involved in their smart phone life's that they don't seem to have much time for anything in the real world around them. Talking to yourself in public used to be a bad thing but now its perfectly normal for someone in a shop, bus, or train to let you into every detailed aspect of their life via phone conversations... whether you want to hear about it or not :o)
Cornucopia art work seems to be everywhere in the Glasgow of old, as seen here with coins pouring out of twisting horns. Not so much money to go around today.. or is there?

Which brings us to this lady. This sculpture stands on the banks of the Clyde in the heart of the city centre and is passed by many walking or cycling underneath her arms. For years I passed here myself on foot or bike and just thought of her as "that nun" because of her grab. I vaguely knew it was something to do with the Spanish Civil War but never bothered to look her up in any detail... although I always meant to do so when I returned home. Dolores Ibarruri or La Pasionaria. (the Passionflower)
Her story in here.
As I stood underneath her statue reading the words I wondered what they meant today. In the 7th richest country in the world (the UK) we have food banks in almost every town and city now and most large supermarkets have a free food donation box on prominent display yet a whole new range of loopholes have been introduced recently which large companies can exploit to avoid paying tax.
Is this the "Big Society"? It seems like a very polarized nation we live in. Horns of plenty for only the lucky few. Meanwhile an old lady can lie dead in a house for six years before being discovered.
Turned out she was paying her bills by direct debit and I've always thought what happens if you snuff it suddenly? Now we know. Bailiffs found her after her bank account drained dry four years later. Someone always cares eventually if you owe them enough money.
Yet hardly a murmur of protest occurs at this state of affairs. Where's the passion gone? It's regarded as normal. Inevitable, given our increasingly secluded life's. Apparently, two windows had been lying open for all that time. If you live alone with no relatives or friends to look after your welfare you have more chance of being found quicker in a remote desert than if you die in towns or cities these days it seems.
Is the age of outraged protest or taking a stand against so many rights being taken away that previous generations struggled hard to obtain for ordinary people a thing of the past in the UK? Maybe we don't make that kind of person anymore? It's a sad state of affairs when the church has to do the moral complaining for the dismantling of the welfare state and society at large. Or maybe the rest of us are too busy to notice anything going on anymore?
Recently, there have been a few programmes about Scottish Independence (I'm still undecided by the way) which always start with "Why do Scots hate the English so much? Why do they want to leave us?" I can only speak for myself here but I personally have nothing against England or the English at all except for the fact that they vote the Conservative party in every so often who have an established history of routinely making life harder for the poorest sections of society (bedroom Tax, Atos assessments for disabilities) while rewarding the rich elite whenever they are in office. Simple as that and Scotland gets stuck yet again with a government few here would vote for even if they were giving away cash prizes. The Conservative Party are not popular in Scotland and probably never will be. A fact Margaret Thatcher never seemed to understand. Maybe she thought we should have stood up and congratulated her when she crushed the unions, turned Scotland, Northern England, South Wales, and any other heavily industrialised region into a jobless wasteland for decades in favour of building London and the South into a financial and business hub. An inflated bubble that is not representative of the rest of Britain in any way. I shudder to imagine what Scotland will look like if they get in again for another term of austerity Britain. Maybe they will bring back rationing.

A favourite view of the back of the city chambers and the Italian Centre on the edge of the merchant city. John Street Area.
Very interesting to read the reviews about it here.
 I like the architecture in this place but I too thought it was like a modern ghost town setting. I was the only person wandering around in it that day but obviously I'm never likely to buy anything from here myself. Money is  tight these days for the majority of ordinary citizens which makes it even more galling to hear the government taking about Britain's economy booming again. Where exactly... in the NHS?
Any walk around Central Glasgow these days is a walk past rows of To Let or For Sale signs. Mostly due to the internet changing the way we shop and conduct our business affairs making many professions redundant overnight which can only continue at an increasing rate with the growth of Apps. Yet the Commonwealth Games are just around the corner with vast building projects in the east end finishing on schedule. Will the money poured into these prestigious buildings trickle down into the local communities that surround the Games village after all the hullabaloo has ended? Only time will tell but in the last five years nearby Calton has became even poorer than it used to be... which I didn't think was possible to achieve!
On a different topic I took a wander round the University of Strathclyde campus. Beautiful grounds here and interesting modern sculptures. One thing about any large city is that it is constantly changing
and always has new places to discover.
Education is one sector where Glasgow has potential growth and the city has a large student population already, some of whom will no doubt go on to work in call centres after graduation as Glasgow is also a major hub for this industry.
After obtaining my obscure books I took a wander back down via the High Street where some of the student accommodation lies.
Big surprise here. Loads of new modern buildings just completed. Hope it's not another call centre though or I'm going to have to tear out my phone :o) Remember the days when you lifted a ringing phone and expected to speak to someone you actually knew?  (Just discovered after a prowl online that it's part of the massive Collegelands Project.  The High Street, seen here, still looks the same when viewed in an uphill direction.

Glasgow it seems is a place of contrasts, like the rest of Britain, with the divide between the have and have not's the widest its been in modern times.
Can you spot the student accommodation flats yet readers? (Being old I'm always behind the curve even though I paddle like buggery to try to keep up with modern life).They are erecting a range of new structures up around Townhead and down in the Gorbals  and the place was buzzing with cranes and construction workers which should bring some money into the city. Maybe builders like designer handbags and high heeled shoes in their down time? The pace of city life is bewildering sometimes. I think this is Blackfriars student village we are looking at here. The flats look very nice inside on the website. Huge Aldi right beside it for cheap shopping and booze- almost as much a bonus tick as free Wi-Fi.

The student flats look better from the front.
Cheery street murals to end with down by the Clydeside.( Near St Andrews Catherdral/ Howard Street) Bat and Bird in Transit.
Cat that got the canary.
Exotic bird having some internal work done.
Toucan play at that game. (sorry)
The Tiger on the Clyde.
Goosander Chicks on the River.
The Clutha floral tributes photographed about a month ago. Used to drink in this pub a few years back. Wonder if they will ever open it again with old style pubs finding it hard to make a living these days?

Video this week is a film clip....... Pan's Labyrinth. While I really enjoyed this memorable film it was a very strange one about a child's experience set in Franco's postwar Spain seen through her eyes that fell between two stools in my mind. Far too scary and brutally realistic in the real life scenes to be watched by young children yet with a strong fantasy element that might not appeal to practical folk. Needless to say I loved it and this scene in particular. The Pale Man!....... Run! Run!
Reminds me of the original Grimm's fairy tales some of which were very dark indeed and a visit I paid alone to a witchcraft museum in a remote part of Spain years ago which had some truly dreadful exhibits of extreme torture that would cause a public outcry and fainting in the streets if they were ever shown in  Britain. Each country has its own ideas and boundaries and I often find some Spanish language films so different from what the UK or USA would pass in a film.
Not suitable for young children unless you want to give them nightmares. Best watched full screen. For those who haven't seen it this is stunning. Full of unusual invention.

Wednesday 25 June 2014

Cramond Island. Corstorphine Hill.Cramond Kirk. An Edinburgh Wedding.

As two of the young folk in one of my clubs were getting married, and both live in Edinburgh, (Gordon,originally from Glasgow and Magda, originally from Poland) I was kindly invited along as a guest at their wedding. It was held at the ever popular Cramond Kirk, where I took this photo of stained glass, medieval style, labour. Some fine examples of glasswork here but this one stood out for me as it featured everyday mundane tasks and not the usual flash of spiritual enlightenment with sunshine or thunderbolts from heaven. Most marriages have years of toil, hard effort and compromise stitched into the fabric of their existance as well as periods of mutual delight.
Cramond Kirk- where the wedding took place and was luckily not affected much by several heavy downpours throughout the afternoon as it took place in the Kirk then the adjacent Cramond Hall for
the reception/afterparty which went on until well past the witching hour.
But I digress... The wedding was not until 3:00pm and I didn't want to miss a large chunk of the day  when it was over in Edinburgh if I could avoid it... So I left Glasgow in the car just after 8:00am heading for the capital. Three decades ago I used to travel UK wide whenever I needed to do I'm restricted to limited journeys to eke out my precious tank of petrol. Squandering £60  worth of fuel in a single day seems wrong somehow when some families in this country make do with that amount per week. Thankfully, I no longer have the travelling and exploring bug within me to the same extent.  As you can see from this info sign Corstorphine Hill is next to Edinburgh Zoo.(the unmarked set of buildings in light green.) It is a heavily wooded sprawling hillside park with several grassy meadows and mature woodland running over undulating slopes. The largest public woodland remaining in Edinburgh as I now found out reading this sign. I've been here before, around 30 years ago with a few like minded friends, right at the witching hour, as it happens. I remember a soft, warm, snow white kitten. Nice amber eyes it had.
In the middle of the park this large stone tower, (mostly hidden from view by its ring of trees, as if hidden away in shame I always feel ) celebrates Sir Walter Scott, (to commemorate 100 years since his birth),which is a less well known memorial tower than the tourist one on busy Princes Street. You can ascend this at certain times when it is open in summer. (Sundays.) See info board photo above.
Nearby there is a viewpoint at the rest and be thankful, an ancient lookout used at the end of R.L. Stevenson's book Kidnapped where David Balfour and Alan Breck go their separate ways.
I actually bumped into one of the Friends of Costorphine Hill when he was walking his dog and I was having breakfast on a sunny park bench.
It's a fine viewpoint overlooking Edinburgh. Assorted Church and Cathedral spires and Edinburgh Castle seen here. St Mary's Cathedral probably, situated  in the West End near Dean Village, is the nearest set of high dark spires at a guess.
Arthur's Seat,(an ancient Volcano and the world's most heavily studied, over several centuries) and Murrayfield Golf Course from Corstorphine Hill. Edinburgh is one of only a handful of cities around the planet to have a volcano so close to it's city centre. Luckily, it's an extinct one. Bad luck Glasgow. Not Scotland's largest city for much longer it seems. :o(
"Rivers change- cities change- landscapes change. Mountains last the longest and give us hope."
How true. I could return to earth a thousand years from now and still pick out Edinburgh.
This same guy asked me if I'd visited the walled garden area at the foot of the park.
"No." says I. 
"You should go." says he. "It's beautiful at this time of year."
"I will." says I. "Cheers for telling me."
As it was fairly close I went to visit it right after my breakfast.
Simple open ended suggestion- followed through without thinking about it too much by me. The best way to receive one and I've placed many into various minds during my own time and fashion, with varied and not always predicable results. People are more susceptible to them in fine weather I've found and every little edge helps when delivering one. Delivering a what? I hear you ask.
A Geas
To move an individual across the chess board of life. Square by square. It's actually very easy to achieve with a patient, calm approach. I suddenly found I had a strong urge to see this walled garden.
Is this a modern everyday example of a Geas or Geis ?
They are underrated now but used for good they still have a surprising power.
"Suggestion" sounds such a weak term for such a mighty force of human nature but there it is.
Although only postage stamp sized the Walled Garden was well worth a visit. A sunny, serene place with a water garden running along the lowest end and a gentle slope filled with flowers, colourful bushes and small trees. Packed a lot into its modest square so it did. From a run down ruin of a garden they have brought it back to feeling good about itself. Same thing can be achieved with humans. Same with all life really. The basic stuff we all need to feel good at the end. Harmony, a sense of fulfilment, finding a strong purpose in the world. The simple ABC that should be so easy to deliver.
Badger Bench Seat.

Scottish Thistle, Wild Wicked Wabbit and Songthrush.

My Geas lifted as I headed down hill through the woods to reach Davidson's Mains Park. Another I'd only been in fleetingly, many decades ago. No Kitten.
This park, about half the size of Costorphine Hill, started off as a hunting estate and some posh housing is still visible across the boundary hedge.
The leafy streets of Barnton are one of the most desirable places to live in Edinburgh where the made good and the inherited good reside together in this east coast Bearsden. For the lucky visitor a smashing cycle track or walkway takes you upstream from Cramond village, along the East bank of the River Almond (100 wooden steps at one point) then out via Braepark Road, Barnton Avenue West, and then Barnton Avenue East. It's like cycling through Beverly hills here.
The park itself is more open and "parklike" than Corstorphine Hill and much flatter too. Still a large variety of beautiful trees though- many used in times past for various purposes.
This made me laugh. Shows teenagers still have a good sense of humour.
Which brings us to Cramond Village itself. A bit of a tourist den and local honeypot these days but you can see why. Edinburgh's "Brigadoon" made real. A few passages in Kidnapped took place here too. A modern ferry was mooted to replace the lone boatman who used to take passengers across the river on request here but that does not seem to have materialised yet. (The ancient seaweed covered stepping stones alas are not for the fainthearted so crossing is tricky for most people.)
Cobble Cottage and the River Almond.
Happy Heron
I decided to go out to Cramond Island along the submerged causeway but I also decided to avoid the crowds by walking across it alone while large waves were still breaking over it. More sporting that way and it's not often you can be Moses for a short time.

A great feeling. No one else on it at this point and worth a soaking up to the knees in places. " Show Them Thy Mighty Hand Great God!" Part The Waves Now!" I bellowed, walking along unsteadily, occasional large waves threatening to topple me off this sea eaten crumbling  parapet into the three foot deep briny ocean either side.  "Let them see your presence on this good green earth! Show yourself to these disbelievers! These 'Heathens'!" ( Charlton Heston may have liked his automatic rifles scattered around the house to deter communists and anal probing by visiting aliens but he sure could deliver a decent line into camera when it was required.) Moses, God, Old Testament Prophets - he had them all in his actor CV bag.  In a line lifted from songwriter Joseph Arthur however. "We are all mad when there is no one else around."
The euphoria lasted until I reached the island itself. It must have been a lovely spot once and still has some nice beaches and wildlife but the all night party crowd seem to have found it  and most of the World War 2 huts are covered in graffiti, broken glass, and litter. Smashed bottles are everywhere on the island which ruined it slightly for me as a destination.
One of many bottles lying in the grass. The liquid breakfast of choice for far too many people these days. Not a happy place for young children to slip or stumble on though. Glass cuts from long shards hidden in the grass can go surprisingly deep into the body.
Wildlife around the coast. A goosander.
Inchmickery. An island off Cramond which resembles a warship when viewed from a distance. The Forth Rail Bridge was a major target linking Edinburgh and the east coast to Fife and the north of Scotland so the islands in the Forth were utilised in the war effort any way they could. Both for artillery placements and for optical subterfuge.
Anyway, By 2:30pm I had changed into a dress suit, dry socks and polished shoes and was back at the church in time for the wedding at 3:00pm. Gordon ( and his brother, I think, photographed here? ) kilted and anxiously awaiting the radiant bride.
The reception/meal/ afterparty in Cramond Hall.  Congratulations to Gordon and Magda for a great outing. Best wishes for future happiness. The party went on most of the night with many relatives and friends, both from Poland and Glasgow, staying in overnight hotels but my wallet doubled over in mortal agony at that thought. Around 9:00pm it had dried up again into a lovely evening so I left to climb Blackford Hill for the sunset making my own version of a perfect ending to a full and action packed day before driving back to Glasgow. Such strange memories of belief systems adhered to back then.
If I am any character in life it is Peter Pan.
I refuse to grow up... or cant.
I make my own rules in life.
I still firmly believe humans have the power to entice strangers across a chess board by mere "suggestion".      History is littered with many examples of this.
I have always endeavoured to play "the great game"  in my own poor fashion, since I devoured "Kim" as a hungry child but not with countries or to advance any dark power play of my own.  Politics bore the arse off me anyway and that's not where my interests lie. I know I am obsessive, setting achievable goals within extremely narrow margins, and I have selected only those handpicked individuals over the years that I might possibly help or show new things to or as a form of "improvement in their situation".
It is enough. Most politicians bore me to tears. (I've spent some time in their company when younger, and no doubt they thought likewise and were equally glad to part ways) "Ordinary" people are much more fun for me. They have made my existence here bearable.
(That's "Autohighography" explained in a nutshell by the way. Feedback from a few friends at the wedding suggested that they seemed to find my first novel somewhat confusing... or not what they expected in a "straightforward" hillwalking book. Such is life. Spending two long years writing it in a room every night I had to find some way to entertain myself as well. Not an easy task these days)
As the concepts and ideas in Kipling's book have always haunted me from a young age- that individuals can dramatically influence and transform the life's of other individuals they come into contact with, given enough guile, tact, and patience ( how appropriate is that in the city of Miss Jean Brodie) so this tune by Japan has always haunted me. I wasn't a fan of this band but sometimes a great original song can come straight out of nowhere and sear right into you. Like an idea... or a Geas... to use the older version of the term.
In retrospect it seems obvious it's inspired by Roxy Music, David Bowie's "ominous portent scenario of staying calm and detached when doomsday is falling" that so many bands have used to good effect since, Eno's early electronic samples, and  Bryan Ferry's laconic singing voice. At the time though it was simply stunning and I've still never heard anything in this particular genre that comes close for both delicate ambiguity of lyrics and permanent stamping on the mental antenna ... after just one  listen...and that includes Bowie and Roxy.  Perfect the day it was recorded...and still perfection now.

Friday 20 June 2014

Overtoun Estate. Lang Craigs Hanging Garden. Dumbarton's Crown Jewel.

A view of Dumbarton and Bellsmyre from the A82.
 The Lang Craigs, seen here, as a long broken wall of cliff and grass could lay claim to being "A Garden", though not in the formal sense. I remember reading an information board which used to sit beside Overtoun House that informed the reader that the Lang Craigs had been enhanced as a wild garden with paths laid out across the steep terraces underneath the main cliffs and a staircase leading to the top. The remains of these faint trails are still here but heavily overgrown with vegetation in places. A faint path travels along the top of these cliffs as a wonderful and easy balcony trail, which is not overgrown and a joy to walk along at any time of year.
In mid spring however the terraces under the cliffs can be spectacular with carpets of bluebells adorning the slopes.
Obviously, I made sure not to miss that display.
Likewise, a month later, I returned for the Rhododendron display as this is truly spectacular... one of the best if not the best and finest arrangements of wild Rhododendrons in Scotland.
 It probably started off as a few scattered bushes but time and mother nature left alone can work wonders on a place.
Now it truly is a "Hanging Garden" in every sense of the word. A magnificent floral jungle that is a mauve maze to negotiate over steep and fractured terrain. One of the reasons for capturing this display is that I noticed during the bluebell trip that they seemed to be cutting and burning away certain lower areas of this "forest of flowers."
Parts of the estate are managed by the Woodland Trust and I know that official bodies often regard Rhododendrons as an invasive species that need to be removed so I hope that this treasure will not be wiped out soon due to official guidelines. A wire fence separates what looks like the Woodland Trust Land from the upper terraces seen here. Below this fence Rhododendrons have been cut down and removed. Fair enough as they are planting deciduous woodland trees within the fencing zone.
Just a thought. Apart from looking beautiful we are trying to save bees in rapid decline and this forest of flowers is alive with wild bees. Thousands of them. A buzzing army. More bumble bees and other species of insect than I have ever seen in one place at one time. More than the oilseed fields where honeybees had been placed in the fields to make honey and improve pollination for humans presumably. No bumbles were there. Only honeybees (and presumably pesticides.) Any specks in the photos above are wild bees flying around but they proved mighty hard to capture in full flight. This place must be a major feeding area for every type of wild bee for miles around. Fortunately, bumble bees, even ones the size of my thumb are gentle giants and will only sting you if you harm them or they feel threatened. I even had a few land on my tee shirt and head to check me out as I moved up through the flower forest but no stings this time for a happy Bobby. I was no threat to these guys. No pesticides or other problems here to make bees sick?  I'm obviously not privy to the plans of the woodland trust or that of the Overtoun Estate but I hope they save these terraced slopes as they are now and see them as a tourist asset rather than something that has to be eradicated and removed.
It's an astonishing place which is largely taken for granted at the moment. That statement could equally stand for Overtoun House and Estate itself as although it is loved by many locals in West Dunbartonshire it is still relatively quiet compared to other more popular estates and grand formal gardens. (My only reason for highlighting it now is that it may alert others to the Rhododendron forest. If few know or care that it is up here in all its glory then any plans for its removal will have fewer objections.)
A fine view of Dumbarton Rock, Dumbarton Castle, and Dumbarton Football Stadium. Sometimes location is everything. Dumbarton folk are rightly proud of their volcanic plug which was the main powerbase for the ancient capital of Strathclyde and the gateway into the River Clyde which was feared and respected as a  fortified stronghold by the Vikings and other potential invaders but visitor numbers would shoot up if it was located in the heart of Glasgow like Edinburgh Castle. " It's a pity we couldn't tow it up river to the city centre. It's wasted down there in Dumbarton." (A recent comment  from a Glasgow tour guide.)
"Hey! Hands off- it's oor ****** rock!" (West Dunbartonshire's irate population.)
Overtoun House and Estate is in the same category. It is a miracle it has survived this long as it could easily have gone the way of many other grand houses and be just a memory on old postcards  now. See this link for it's long and very colourful history. Several film location have used it over the years but it is still mostly unknown to the general public outside Dumbarton and the surrounding district. Parts of Cloud Atlas were filmed here. Not seen that film myself yet... but soon hopefully.

It's a good location for a film shoot.
Overtoun House itself. Always impressive.( maybe dogs visiting here for the first time should be on a lead crossing the bridge beside the main house just in case... See link above.) There is a car park next to the house and a tea room inside which is open most afternoons in summer.
Some more views of the estate which is surprisingly large and complex and I'm still finding new parts to explore after many visits. A network of good walks run across the area, and many are signposted now. Some are flat but as it lies on a slope many require some uphill walking as part of the route.

A panorama of Dumbarton, the River Clyde and Port Glasgow. (Inverclyde district)

The formal back garden, which is private within the stonework but is easily viewed in full detail from outside the boundary.
A large laburnum tree on the minor road leading up to the estate. Many of these beautiful trees have been lost in the last few decades, cut down by home and land owners unwilling to take the risk that they might be sued if children swallow the seeds which are poisonous. Every age and society has its own customs, pros and cons which can shape the landscape around us. Another endangered species? There used to be half a dozen large specimens like this one in gardens around me... all have disappeared in the last ten years. Steady work for tree surgeons or experienced landscape gardeners.
Like all my posts I wouldn't want this area to get too popular but it's a fine line between popularity and total obscurity which is much harder to judge. I have visited this estate over many decades and there were times when the house was completely boarded up and abandoned and the car park was not a safe place to leave your car for any length of time. Now it seems to have a bright future once again
and the car park is well visited during the day by locals, dog walkers, and  a mixed range of tourists.
It's a beautiful place, especially in spring and early summer.

But you will have to wait until next year to see the hanging gardens once again.
But will they still be there? I hope so. Considering it has taken 100 years to create this mosaic of colour and the increasingly large list of other, more serious, invasive tree pests and diseases that spring up to threaten our native woodlands year on year I personally think the money could be better spent here. Leave the hanging gardens of Overtoun alone. They are Dumbarton's Crown Jewel.
I'm not hopeful though after looking at the woodland trust's own website which lists these flowers as highly invasive and their removal as "desirable."
Another woodland they own, called somewhat ironically Rhododendron Wood by locals is having its rhododendrons taken out to "improve" the wood. For who exactly?
So... see the full glory of the Lang Craigs Rhododendrons while you can. Nothing is forever.