The alarm cries and it’s time. To wake and to move from slumber to action. Tired and slightly disconsolate, those necessary last minute tasks await. We’re going to Canada today. going to be along day and sometimes a hard and stressful one. A bitter cup of coffee and endless security checks later, we’re passing from Manchester and being drawn towards Vancouver, British Columbia and our eventual destination, Kelowna in the semi-arid Okanagen region. This time for one month – four weeks – one twelfth of a year. It sounds a different duration whichever way one describes it.
Unlike most times there are few Canadians on our flight. No winter wear, no sea of denim just expectant mostly English faces in juxtaposition with efficient and workmanlike Scottish cabin crew.
Little to see of Ben Nevis, Iceland or Greenland, we surge on to North America and I wonder what changes lie ahead in the next month. Is this my tenth or twelfth journey to Canada? In truth I lost count a long time ago. I didn’t forget the memories though, now-distant vacations of white-capped mountains, of frozen lakes skated on, of huge shopping malls and cheap and plentiful food. Ice cold beer, hockey nights and afterwards the forbidding frigid atmosphere out on the sidewalks. Continue reading
Today was to have a special visit dedicated to Rosslyn Chapel, the church of considerable fame featured in Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code. I should confess straight away that I have never read Dan Brown’s tale of the Knights Templar but fully intend to – especially after this superb visit.
Prior to visiting the chapel we took a lunch in the nearby Roslin Glen Hotel in Rosslyn village. It was clear to see through the information and pictures in the pub’s bars and lobby that the village is one with much history, quite apart from the chapel and it’s legends.
The chapel lies six miles south of Edinburgh and was built in the 15th century by Earl William St. Clair of Rosslyn who’s family was descended from noble Norman knights . Rosslyn Chapel is now a building that holds much mystery for all.
Without attempting to delve too deeply into the history of the chapel, one of the notable stories is of the ‘Apprentice Pillar’ and the apprentice and master mason’s eventual fate. Countless other stories such as that of the Green Man, the Musical Boxes and the Ears of Corn are also depicted in the fabulous, intricate carvings that cover the interior of the chapel.
A run at Portobello seems the most apt start to the day once more. I smile when passing the public bathrooms at Joppa noticing that the water in the block is heated by solar power. Good old Edinburgh, in spite of what some may think I still believe it leads the way in quite a few areas of thinking and planning.
Back home refreshed, I veer towards a plan to enlarge my ever-increasing supply of available reading matter. This means a visit to West Port near the infamous ‘Pubic Triangle’ to take in a several second-hand book stores.
A fresh day ahead and time to take in the old sites and experiences of whenever I coma back home. First of all though I have an appointment – with a certain beach for a morning run. Portobello has always been known as ‘Edinburgh’s Seaside’ situated three miles east of Edinburgh on the south shore of the Firth of Forth. It has an interesting if chequered past and was once an extremely popular resort in Victorian times and on. In earlier days the town had an impressive pier which was eventually demolished due to the effects of storm damage. The town also boasted a feature known as ‘The Marine Gardens’ which was an early theme park of it’s day. Curiously, one of the attractions of the Gardens was a specially imported African tribe who lived there for people’s entertainment and wonder!
Portobello is the next door town to place of my family’s origin, Musselburgh – more of which another time. Suffice to say that ‘Porty’ holds many wonderful childhood memories for me and this is just one reason why I still love the place. In my childhood days Portobello seemed a place of wonder, with it’s long, sandy beach and popular promenade with attractions for holidaymakers. One of those features was an outdoor pool with a wave machine – arguably the first such item in the world. The water in the pool, though artificially ‘heated’ was probably the iciest in the world! I also have memories of a loud klaxon that would sound when the next wave was due – when us kids would ready ourselves and jockey for position for the ride down the pool. There are less comfortable memories too. One was of one particular late afternoon when a young Stu stayed on the beach playing football just that little bit too long… Fortunately dad was best placed to run down onto the beach from the high walls and scoop me up under his arm as I was cornered by a fast-approaching tide!
It was a Tuesday morning early, time to wake up and tackle the drive to Edinburgh this morning. The portents looked healthy as I took an early run in the morning sunlight and home to prepare myself for the journey. Bags packed I stepped into the car and headed off north at 10am towards the A1 and a few hours behind the wheel.
Ploughing on through squally showers and dark skies I was soon passing over the Scottish border with only a briskly taken cup of coffee behind me. Heading towards a favourite lunch stop, Eyemouth, a small seaside town. A stroll and a breath of fresh air on the promenade later, I headed towards the renowned fish and chip shop on the main street. It’s the seaside – I’ve driven a long way – I deserve fish and chips I reasoned. The food came over the counter, I paid and received my first sight of a Scottish banknote in a while when I suddenly realised the full weight of what I was about to receive. This place hardly holds back in it’s portions as I manhandled what seemed like a family meal in a large, reinforced cardboard box. It may as well have been a pallet.
Settling down to a seat on the prom in the bright and welcoming sunlight I tucked in with both elbows. There were actually two fish in the box (or was it a small shoal) and a mountain of chips. I gave up the fight and handed much of it to a panting black labrador with sea water still dripping from him. Have you ever seen a dog smile? Small children gambolled around in Scottish football jerseys as dad’s kept a wary, blearly eye over them. Faint school holiday noises rose from the beach below me. Continue reading
I was pleased to note a familiar old name being bandied around in Hibs circles yesterday. The name Cropley will be familiar to many Hibs aficionados and also not a few older generation Aston Villa and Arsenal supporters as belonging to the brilliant talent of 1970s’ midfielder Alex Cropley. Alex was one of my great Hibs heroes. In what was a wonderful and creative team shrewdly managed by Hibs boss, Eddie Turnbull in that era, midfielder Cropley shone, even amongst a great array of talent and flair.
Alex Cropley’s game was very much a multi-dimensional one. Not only could he play inch-perfect and flamboyant cross field passes and hold the ball with sublime skill, he could also ‘dig’ pretty well too. His tackling being at the sharp and aggressive end of the spectrum belying his size and neat, deft ball skills. Alex was quite left-footed but what a foot it was.
Alex was born in Aldershot, England being the son of a serviceman stationed in that part of the world. This fact provided his long-time nickname ‘Sodjer’ although he did come to represent Scotland internationally on two occasions. One might look back at the modest two caps and ask how many more times that would have been had he played for Celtic or Rangers instead of Hibs? Nevertheless Alex did have a good career before ending his playing days prematurely at just thirty-one.
Being fortunate enough to have made a trip to the ‘Burgh for the past few days I took the opportunity offered by a friend for an early morning visit to the new Hibernian FC training centre at East Mains.
On a mostly deserted Saturday morning before 9pm it takes the use of the imagination to envisage a day’s hard work being put in by the playing staff from Easter Road at East Mains but still the centre remains extremely impressive. The only sign of life was a tractor pulling a gang mower in the far distance (thankfully) as we pondered this new and vital facility for Hibs’ future.
How archaic is Scottish and British football generally when we are informed how very few clubs own such a training centre? It’s said that the majority of top clubs in France for example train in such circumstances. With some of the success the French have had in recent years we can see that this is perhaps no coincidence.
The centre sports some of the lushest, greenest new turf I’ve seen in a while. Around the main buildings, the turves are currently still knitting together at this time and infant saplings have been planted to surround the playing areas and offer an eventual windbreak in what look to be potentially fairly windswept conditions.
Wading my way through what is a recurrent theme at this time of year, that of angst caused by the lack of ‘signings’ at Hibs encourages me to consider a little of the way things used to be in professional football too many decades ago to admit to.
Of course nowadays the average supporter is well used to new faces in the squad, freshening up the team and creating interest around Hibs, and most other clubs for that matter. It should be remembered however that this state of affairs was not always so. Perhaps only two decades ago matters were quite different in an era that was not dominated by football agents, ‘Bosman’s and pre-contracts.
I’m just back after a few days back in Scotland’s capital and I came across these words to reflect upon from the Sunday Message bulletin from Mass last week before I left. They particularly resonate with me. We have a modern era in which Christianity is much mocked (perhaps it was always thus), one in which people seem to attempt to impress upon us constantly that our faith is ridiculous and that those that have such beliefs are merely deluded.
I regret this aggressive attitude towards others’ thoughts and opinions generally and particularly in the area of faith. I also applaud and feel encouraged by the words I repeat below:
“It is fashionable today to scoff at people of faith. There is a new, aggressive form of of aitheism on the rise in the West that wants to make non-believers of all people. One of the high priests of this militant atheism is Richard Dawkins. He considers anyone who doesn’t agree with him to be ‘deluded’. He wants to rid people of what he describes as their God delusion.
He and his fellow atheist cheerleaders dismiss believers as ‘childish’, as people who have not grown up. Their mission is to make believers see ‘reason’, to free themselves of their independence on a non-existent God.
This kind of attitude shouldn’t surprise us. Jesus encountered it in his day as well. The so-called ‘learned and the clever’ could not accept Jesus’ message. They rejected it and they rejected him also. They scoffed at those who followed him.
But Jesus says not to put heed in these ‘learned and clever’ ones. He says that the mind can easily become arrogant, self-important, bullying and dismissive. In order to be able to accept his message, one needs an open mind and an open heart.
But that does not mean there is anything anti-intellectual about being a person of faith. Some of the greatest minds in history, from Augustine to Thomas Acquinas to John Henry Newman, have been believers. What they had also is a child-like trust in the Lord, an awareness that before God all the knowledge and reason in the world don’t amount to very much. That is the attitude we are called to have also.”
Time to return to the WI Hall for two more lectures before the festival would end for another year. Ink in the Blood presented by former newspaper editor Barry Williams and introduced by Nottingham Evening Post Features Editor, Jeremy Lewis was an interesting experience to say the least. Mr. Williams, a very accomplished man and former editor of three large local newspapers for many years including the afore-mentioned Nottingham edition was in Lowdham to talk about his recently written autobiography and seemed to have attracted many of his former work colleagues from the local newspaper to see him. I was struck by this at once as one of the old hacks sat next to me with a loud, self-important and booming voice appeared to believe I was a piece of furniture to be leaned on. Perhaps there had been a few gin and tonics over lunch I mused as I pulled my chair away from his weight. It must actually be a common ignorance that some old journalists have as another of his blue-blazered ‘chums’ appeared to consider my shoulder as a convenient leaning post before I physically took his arm and removed it to his surprise.
Last week I had the pleasure of attending the local annual Lowdham Book Festival for a Saturday of literary pursuit. Lowdham is a village just a few short miles from my home and has a special significance for this blog site. It was just a year ago that I attended a lecture given by Mike Atkinson, a free-lance writer and author of the excellent troubled diva blog site. That talk gave me the notion to set this site up after formerly experimenting with a homepage for some time.
The final Saturday at Lowdham is always the most popular and usually packed with events enough to interest anyone held in the several different small venues around the village from a marquee, through a Women’s Institute Hall to an old Methodist Chapel. The day also features a book fair full of bargain reads and is now widening into literary craft displays such as bookbinding.
With so many events overlapping and running simultaneously I tend to choose a few before the day and head for those. On this day my first choice talk Victorian Nottingham was to begin at 10.15am and being a little Saturday morning-tardy I decided not to rush breakfast and took a leisurely drive through the attractive village of Woodborough and over to Lowdham instead.
Concluding with the third part of the York wall walk, it was time to move on as the skies became ever darker. Regaining the wall I looked over some modest looking flats which lay beyond a short field of chest high grass. In the distance I see two teenagers out of the school for the day approaching, one on the wall and one determinedly fighting his way through the overgrown grass with just his head appearing, for some reason! I must be getting old for I remember well when I used to do this type of thing. Oh, okay then – it still happens occasionally.
View from the walls of the Minster, currently under refurbishment
The Red Tower appears on the horizon. Uniquely for the wall because it’s made of red brick, the stonemasons of the day were pretty tetchy about this fact, so put out in fact that it led to the murder of one of the bricklayers. Industrial relations in 1490?. Much of it now gone but stands in memory to that clash. Afterwards a break now occurs in the wall for a few minutes alongside a busy road.
Part two of the walk and rounding the corner, the atmosphere takes on a different hue as the people are left behind and the stroll becomes a more lonely trudge, overlooking the odd industrial unit and small streets of houses. The rather grand Micklegate Bar now comes into view standing sentinel over the old street, famed nowadays as a modern-day pub crawl with its many lively bars.
This was the most important gateway to the city where for many years the likes of rebellious or traitorous folk could find their head detached and then attached to a pike for display above the gate. The more things change the more they stay the same – The Micklegate is still responsible for a few slight headaches just as it ever was – particularly after a heavy Saturday night.
Recently I’d the opportunity to spend a few hours in my favourite English city, York, something I’ve not been able to do in a while. Taking a free ride up the A1 to the old walled city with my partner on business there, it gave me ample time to carry out a little project I’ve been meaning to carry out for some time – to walk around the city’s walls in their entirety.
I’ve a slight fascination for walled cities and a great liking for York itself. I’m not sure why the latter is, maybe it’s because of some of its similarities with Edinburgh, the history being very evident wherever one walks. On the practical side it is not a huge conurbation and its sights and attractions are all walkable.
The Hospitium, York Museum Gardens
Where to begin then? Well with a quick pint for (another kind of) fortification of course (more of which another time) and a bacon roll in the York Museum Gardens naturally. Whilst watching small children gambolling on the grass with mums chattering nearby. Ever an adventurous pigeon to steal the crumbs from under my very feet too.
The walk was on.