Monday 25 March 2019

Kilmarnock. Dick Institute. Robert Burns.

                                                ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN.
A day trip by bus with Anne saw us leave Buchanan Bus Station and under an hour later roll into Kilmarnock, a town 18km or 11 miles inland from the coastal town of Ayr, both around a similar size with populations just under 50,000 residents. The Dick Institute above.
Kilmarnock Bus Station. I seem to remember, traveling here in the 1960s the bus station then was covered over and in a different location, appearing very dark, mysterious, and atmospheric through a child's eyes. Like going briefly underground into a subterranean kingdom full of strange smells and sights. That stuck in my mind anyway, coming here again, and looking at old photos online of the '1960s SMT Kilmarnock Bus Station' you will see what I mean. Placing bus stations inside buildings or erecting garages underground seemed to be fairly common back then before engine exhaust pollution was even recognized as a threat to health. Cigarette and pipe smoke inside buses at busy times, upstairs, was even worse, like a dense fog on occasions, and children just accepted this as normal. This modern bus station is more open plan, airy, and bright. The building behind is a multi level car park and the main shopping centre is just behind that.
As I know what she's like once she hits the shops I carefully steered Anne in the direction of the Dick Institute... and hopeful enlightenment. This is it here and for decades I'd passed signs for it on Ayrshire hill walks without even knowing what it was. Normally, as I've mentioned before, any hill walking companions are  completely focused on hills with little or no interest in visiting urban areas. But for once, with Anne keen to visit " a Scottish dick museum" in her own words, I had some company. Thank you, oh precious one.
The building itself came as something of a surprise, unexpectedly grand and ornate, as did this entire preserved district, carefully landscaped with fine period buildings in the surrounding vicinity.
Inside it was just as impressive, the entire upper level divided into separate interesting and spacious rooms. I thought I'd left poet Robert Burns (never Rabbie in his own lifetime) behind in Ayr but it turned out Kilmarnock has just as large a Burns presence as Alloway where he grew up. As an adult he moved to a farm within walking distance of this town so Kilmarnock, having a printing press, was where he really started to become famous and publish his poems. I learned Burns poetry and songs in school of course, after a fashion, but like Shakespeare I often stumbled over reading the printed words out loud and to most of my classmates and myself it was an endurance test to get through rather than a pleasure, with half the class laughing at our pitiful efforts if already chosen and the other half nervous they would be the next victims.
Although a household name worldwide I think it's fair to say that Burns is mainly championed in the UK by certain actors, certain traditional folk singers or intellectual types to prove their deep Scottish roots in some strange fashion and not really by the general public at large. For a modern audience it can be hard to understand and appreciate fully. Many Russians apparently are fond of Burns but over here he's mainly trotted out at Burns suppers once a year... or hogmanay, usually in middle class households as a dinner party variation, or in more upmarket hotels, restaurants and public buildings, as a Scottish treat/icon for tourists where they have made the effort to pronounce the poems correctly, often through specialized help, like a guest Burns speaker, or talented non professional.
Similar to the equally renowned James Joyce, apart from a few well known examples ( Auld Lang Syne) you just can't dip in to these writers immediately with any level of ease- they require time, study, and practice to get it sounding spot on. There may be exceptions but in thousands of ordinary Scottish houses I've visited over decades in work I've never seen Robert Burns displayed or mentioned in any of them. A bit like the definition of a classic book- titles known by everyone but read by very few. Except in certain domestic bookcases where a copy of Burns poetry would seem like an omission to a well balanced thoughtful collection, a tasteful blend to complement the house overall, not necessarily to be well thumbed or remembered.        But everyone knows the name.

That's not to say we didn't find this information interesting as not being Burns enthusiasts we were surprised by the Kilmarnock connection and intrigued to learn more. Rather than tell you the story you can read it yourself here. Hopefully.
The ground floor of the Dick Institute contains the town library and like a lot of medium sized fairly isolated towns I've visited, Cumbernauld springs to mind, it has a wide selection of books, films and other entertainment- more than the average suburban city library would hold, as if its not here in this facility Glasgow is the nearest larger source of information- pre internet days. Even now it's still well stocked and we had a look through the racks of films, finding classics of cinema I've not seen for years.... modern, world, and period titles. Nowadays, with DVD hire shops shut and supermarkets stocking very limited film titles it's a much poorer selection on show for casual browsing customers- something you tend to forget until you see the broader spectrum of films in a place like this with French, German, Japanese and smaller indie movies well represented. The ground floor also hosts art installations and various events.
Come to Kilmarnock and get educated... like us.
As I've seen before in numerous post industrial British towns, at one time, especially during the industrial revolution and colonial era, each of these places, almost backwaters nowadays, (for folk living outside Ayrshire that is) had a thriving local economy and in the case of coastal towns often traded independently with other countries. The general populace may have had poor working conditions and low wages but judging by the scale of the public buildings surrounding the Dick Institute, Kilmarnock was not a poor town back then. Far from it. Similar to the case of not that far away Paisley or Clydebank -now and back then- once two of the richest towns in the UK 70 years ago with worldwide trade, industry, and export links- now two of the poorest.
The old Technical School, part of Kilmarnock Academy, converted into upmarket apartments by the looks of them but nice to see it saved. Lovely period building.
A closer detail.
Arts and crafts. Technical college entrance arch. Only Kilmarnock Academy and Eton College in the UK have produced two separate Nobel peace prize winners- a mark of its important standing back then for a rural community surrounded by farmland in a fairly off grid location. The older buildings here date from the 1800s through to 1910.
Another part of Kilmarnock Academy. Although the old buildings still seem to be in use for certain events/business enterprises, etc a new modern school for pupils sits nearby.
Kilmarnock War Memorial. An unusual plain square cube whereas most others feature a black angel or similar sculpture.
Never realized that Scotland, per head of population, suffered the largest losses of any allied country during the First World War.
Stained Glass Panel. Dick Institute.
Adam and Eve panel.

This we found in the porch of the New Laigh Kirk or Church, a fine building with both modern and original stained glass panels. You had to ask permission to photograph the ones inside so none here as the custodian was busy with other visitors on our arrival but the new ones were fabulous creations and much admired. Built in the early 1800s it replaced an earlier version, hence the 'new' kirk tag.
Another surprise was finding out American gothic horror writer and poet Edgar Allan Poe may have visited this same church to study the headstones as a child, sent here from school. Although born in America, after his mother died he was taken in by a Scottish women who took pity on him and took him from the USA to Irvine, a nearby Scottish coastal town about 10km 6 miles away from Kilmarnock. He lived in Irvine for around a year before moving to London then back to the USA. We had no inkling Edgar Allan Poe had been anywhere near Scotland, let alone this church.

With various cemetery headstones featuring luckless Covenanters who had been decapitated and tortured this may well have fed into his schoolboy imagination from that time. As seen in previous posts killing witches was also popular in Scotland. Also his mother died in extreme poverty and desperation of tuberculosis when he was a child as did his young wife decades later, suggesting he may either have been an unconscious but largely unaffected carrier of this terrible illness or maybe as a well known but frequently penniless writer he lived in unheated rooms through the damp winters. Two treasured loved ones coughing up blood and dying slowly may well have played a part in molding his psyche towards gloomy macabre thoughts. Annabel Lee is one of his most moving poems though, written about his failing wife's health, but styled in an effective 'fever dream' context, and he only lived two years more after her untimely death.
During the industrial revolution Kilmarnock made its money from coal mines, iron ore deposits, linen, manufacturing, stone quarries ( the rich sandstone from ballochmyle was used widely) and even fresh water river pearls. Up until recently Johnnie Walker, the whisky manufacturer, had a large presence in the town, with several generations employed. Starting from the early 1880s it evolved into a world famous brand, always based in Kilmarnock, and at its height in the 1970s it employed almost 2000 folk in well paid steady jobs. After a takeover it's now based elsewhere.
We then had a wander around Kilmarnock's main shopping district, and unlike Ayr, with its down at heel slightly faded appearance,closed shops, and pigeon plus seagull plagued rooftops and skies overhead, Kilmarnock appears, at least for now, to be bucking the high street trend better. Fewer empty shops here and a more interesting street layout with cobbled pedestrian zones and some fine Victorian buildings, which made it more enjoyable walking around. In Ayr you always had to watch out for cars coming up behind you right through the main shopping streets and it was very vehicle intense, even at night in the dark, with continuous cars circling like vultures waiting for unwary pedestrians to put a foot wrong. Much more relaxed here and Anne enjoyed it. She went shopping while I took a tour of the neighbourhood, arranging to meet each other later on.
Doves. Garden of Eden.
Victorian Pub.
Burns Statue and Shopping Mall.
Kilmarnock Heritage Walk info. We had done most of this before we found this sign.
Street Art. A pavement swimmer in the High Street.
Period street layout. Kilmarnock town centre has a scattering of Victorian era buildings, enough to give it some character.
Robert Burns Monument Centre. We found this building in Kay Park, a short 20 minute walk from the town shopping district, also used as a genealogy research unit and wedding venue, judging by the confetti blowing around.
1846 traditional pub and live music venue.

Masonic Temple. Built 1920s using Ballochmyle red sandstone. Burns was an honorary member of the older lodge here, a useful stepping stone to getting further ahead, no doubt. In many instances throughout history you can find people/artists with equal or greater talent who somehow manage to slip between the cracks and get overlooked despite loads of potential. Either through dodgy temperament, shy retiring nature, no ability to promote themselves, not good looking enough, lack of focus and opportunities, just plain bad luck, wrong choices, or empty of sheer ambition and contacts. It's not always the greatest talents in history that get remembered every time just the ones that have the right combination of good luck, judgement, drive, temperament, a ruthless streak to get ahead, the ability to interact with the right people, at the right time, and perseverance to seize any opportunity and adapt to it when it comes. Usually every society in any era has room for only one or very occasionally two great painters, artists, poets, sculptors, writers etc who get elevated above all the rest. And it can boil down to how comfortable you are with the star makers- the folk that can make things happen for you- and the ability and intelligence to tick all the boxes put in front of you on your way to the top- talent (or genius) being just one small factor in a complicated equation. After all, talent, (and genius) can also be manufactured from nothing sometimes if enough people buy into it, especially in this modern era of relentless spin, like a heavy object rolling downhill to the point where it becomes unstoppable force. "That artist is a Genius! " agree 20 carefully selected people in a room.  If they say it often enough it becomes self fulfilling, occasionally. (obviously, I'm not talking about Robert Burns in that respect just fame in general and the great game of winners and losers as to who gets remembered by history,,, and what for...)
Sometimes, it can be all show at the front and not much behind. A D.I. Lion. ( those who visit it will know the truth of this) And a pleasant journey back in good company with my always welcome companion.

Friday 15 March 2019

Dark Arts. A Night Photography Collection.

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During the winter months, when darkness falls early, and days can be cold, grey, and grim I get my colour fix by going out at night- not every night- that would turn it into mere routine- just occasionally, on still clear nights... or when the opportunity arises.
So this is a winter collection- at night. Lock 27 here- a waterside pub on the Forth and Clyde Canal. Great reflections.
Anniesland Cross Shops. Wet Streets and water features make the best reflections obviously.
The back of the Southern General Hospital Complex. A night journey through a silent Govan.
Glasgow's New Hospital seen from Moss Heights.
Assorted Wildlife on Bingham's Pond. Moorhens, Coots, Swans, Ducks, Goosanders etc.
Gartnavel Hospital viewed from Bingham's Pond. Back in the day a popular boating and skating venue when summers were less soggy than today and winters much colder and longer.
The pond with a bus passing. Night photography is often harder than daylight efforts which gives it added interest and complexity. In certain urban areas it can also be dangerous, heightening the experience.
Leonardo's Inn. Great Western Road. The boating pond was much larger in the past, continuing over into this hotel development property which was also pond at one point.
Acre Road from Maryhill Park. After Window Wandering around in the last post I had a tour around the adjacent park itself then headed for the highest point I could see. This is looking across at Bearsden/Milngavie but it wasn't here I was walking towards.
It was this place. Gilshochill. One of the few areas of the city I'm not that familiar with but I was up here on my bike in the summer months in daylight and enjoyed exploring the area so I already knew it had great views.
So off I went again- urban hill walking in the dark.
Here be mountains of stone..... and dragons. I had been intrigued in summer on the bike run to find a network of empty streets up here- obvious signs that houses once lined these now abandoned city blocks. Years ago I had passed through this district with friends in a car and noticed it when the houses still stood, thinking I would return for a proper visit later as any new high level parts of the city interest me but it never happened- like an archeologist who had lingered too long in the foothills and just missed the higher prize- these vanished streets of houses haunted me later. If only I'd captured them sooner, before they disappeared forever...

Anniesland Tower.
Moss Flats.
Cardonald at Night.
Ten- Story- Love- Song.
The Upper Kingdoms. Howling at the moon with my little familiar by my side.
The Shining Path.
Night in the city of twinkling lights.
Woodland Realm. Paisley Park.
Gothic Mansion.
Now renamed and remodeled Clyde College stands in what used to be Anniesland College. Decades ago I took art and design night classes here as well as several other courses. Good views from the upper floors as it stands on a hill -like half of Glasgow.

Same place- very different era.
The Dark Estate.
Seen from the trees. Shadows and orange light.
Rain Reflections.
Anniesland Tower From Maryhill.

Pond ice reflections. The end.