Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category
If you’ve grown up anywhere in rural Britain, particularly the Highlands and Islands, you’ll be well familiar with passing place signs on single track roads. They are, I think, one of the most iconic features of Scottish roads.
Growing up in the Uists, they were of course everywhere. Judging a passing so you and an oncoming car stop for the minimum time possible (if at all) is quite an art. This challenge – plus other obstacles such as sheep on the road – more than balance out there not being any traffic lights or roundabouts in the driving test. I remembered they all looked like the one on the left – a square sat on one of its corners, with “PASSING PLACE” written across it.
Then some years ago, mysteriously, they started to appear flat on their sides, like the one in the middle. Was this some change in the rules, or was it some monumental cock-up where someone in local government procurement accidentally ordered several thousand misprinted signs and the decision was taken to just go with them?
This past weekend’s camping trip saw us undertake a two-hour circular walk past the old mill at Altan Na Bradhan and back to the Clachtoll campsite along the coast. The first stretch was along the windy, twisty road out of Clachtoll that was of course punctuated with passing places.
The signs along that stretch included the original version (left), the newer ones (centre) and the bizarre mutation that is the one on the right. I’d never seen those rectangular ones before, and they were clearly something that could only count as a deviation from the norm.
A cursory check online throws up this webpage that details the nature of single track roads, while this thread on a forum confirms that the middle one was indeed a change. As one poster dryly notes,
bureaucrats changed the design because diamond shaped signs are reserved for instructions to tram drivers. The Highlands are of course noted for the number of recently constructed tramlines where this could have caused confusion
Perhaps we need a revolution – a campaign to bring back the corner-based passing place sign and put a definite stop to abhorences like the sign on the right above.
Who’s with me?
I hate the word “remote”.
It is patronising and culturally biased, because inherent in the use of word “remote” is the rarely added follow-up “…from…”.
In other words, somewhere is deemed remote only in the context of another place. And there lies the flaw: because if you swap starting points, it is the other place that is remote. Therefore any remoteness you perceive is merely a consequence of the viewpoint you start with.
For instance, it’s a lazy cliche that the Highlands is full of remote communities. Yet what people more precisely mean when they say that, is that the Highlands is full of communities that are remote from London, Edinburgh, Glasgow, or some other starting point. Yet if you are in one of these communities, then it is London, Edinburgh or Glasgow that is remote. The journey takes no less time to travel in one direction than the other.
So why don’t you ever hear people say that London is a “remote” city? Sure, it’s one of the world’s best-connected cities in transport terms, but it’s still well over a day’s journey from some parts of the UK. If parts of the Highlands are “remote” from London, then London is itself equally remote from those places.
It’s especially nice when writers from so-called peripheral areas turn these concepts of remoteness on their heads. Kevin McNeil’s The Stornoway Way, which I reviewed here, fixes its centre of gravity very firmly on what it refers to as the “Hebridean metropolis” on the isle of Lewis. As if to prove the point the book contains an upside down map of Scotland. The mainland is portrayed merely as the place over the water, and indeed the main character sets the tone early in the book by saying “we do not live in the back of beyond, we live in the very heart of beyond.”
Meanwhile, one of my favourite other books along these lines is Popular Music by the Swedish author Mikael Niemi. The novel tells the story of a boy growing up in the village of Pajala in Tornedalen, a Finnish-speaking community in the far north of Sweden. The author is quoted in the blurb at the back as saying:
No one in Sweden goes to Pajala – most people here have to leave and go south to find jobs or go to college. So I decided to turn the whole world upside down and write it very locally, as if Tornedalen was the centre, the natural state, and pretend that Stockholm and the rest of southern Sweden were these exotic places.
It’s refreshing when we get to see the world upside down like this. And to view such places not as “remote” but rather as “the heart of beyond” as MacNeil has it, or “the centre, the natural state” to quote Niemi, the best thing to do is simply go to them.
One such place is Scoraig, a small village in Wester Ross at the northern shore of the mouth of Little Loch Broom. it has no road access and no mains electricity, so is ripe to be described by those from elsewhere as “remote”.
I have met one or two people from there, and it always sounded like an intriguing place. A small but thriving and sustainable population, Scoraig is cut off from the road network and is accessible from elsewhere only by boat across the loch or by a five mile hike along the shoreline. It was a place, I had variously been told, of pioneering use of renewable energy, a strong sense of community, a healthy degree of self-sufficiency, and more than a little hippy culture. How true all that was, I didn’t know.
Then came our two nights’ camping at Badrallach, the nearest village along the coast and on the closest overland piece of the road network to Scoraig. To fill part of our one full day at Badrallach, Nicole and I walked to Scoraig and back (five miles each way) in beautiful, warm sunshine; not entirely sure what to expect.
The first thing we were rewarded with as we left the tarmac and hit the rough path hewn through the heather, was a magnificent view across the still loch to the mountains of the southern shore, including the imposing beauty of An Teallach. As we walked, it turned into a lovely panorama back along the full length of the loch.
Old ruined crofthouses, piles of modern concrete blocks and wind turbines were the first signs of our reaching Scoraig, and they represented a good metaphor for the regeneration of the area. Passing a few snug houses nestled among trees, the next major landmark was the Scoraig lighthouse that doubles as a visitor information centre. Curiously far inland (I have since discovered it was moved from a more conventional location at the end of the peninsula in the 1950s), it is a nice welcome to the visitor, explaining as it does something of the history of the community and its modern existence (the Scoraig Community Association website also provides a lot of interesting background).
Scoraig had been inhabited for a long time, but a real revival seems to have happened in the past few decades, with a range of people moving there in enough numbers to justify a school. Many people croft and grow their own food, but other home-based industries exist as well. The sea, obviously, is a defining factor for the village, and the jetty is lined with an array of motorboats with which people travel across the water and back, bringing vital supplies.
All the houses seemed attractive, presumably great labours of love. The jetty, though quiet when we stopped just past it to rest and eat lunch, showed evidence of much life. The few people we passed were cheery in their greetings, though they included a fair number of other walkers and visitors too.
On that beautiful, sunny day, Scoraig didn’t seem remote at all. It may have been a long-ish walk from the main road, and no doubt the village was a success only due to the ongoing hard work of its people; but it felt a quite happy, content place. As every place should be, I suppose.
I’ve been trying to get out as much as possible at weekends of late. Uncharacteristically good weather has made it all the more motivating to get out and explore the beautiful surroundings that lie just a short distance away from Inverness.
Three recent walks have rendered some half-decent photos.
The light on the east coast of the Highlands can be terrific, as the afternoon light is cast out across the North Sea with fresh breezes rushing back in return.
Following this route on the excellent Walk Highlands website from Maryburgh took me into a neck of the woods that I didn’t know at all. It’s a long and very scenic walk through lovely countryside. Sunlight in winter time can be incredibly evocative and atmospheric.
East of Inverness, the town of Nairn is home to some lovely beaches, stretching a long way east where it is bordered by the Moray Firth on one side and Culbin Forest on the other. Again, the light towards the end of the afternoon at this time of the year is stunning.
It’s one of our ambitions for this year to get out a lot more at weekends. Hopefully there’ll be lots more photos to report in the coming months.
The writer and philosopher Alain de Botton is a well-known commentator on our modern world. He’s written and presented on a vast range of subjects, from art and religion to literature and travel.
His work is loved by many, but less so by others, and his Twitter account, in which he tweets thoughts for our preponderance, comes in for particular criticism. Search for his name on Twitter, for instance, and you’ll find that opinion on him is divided. Some view his words as pithy platitudes, but others clearly find help and inspiration – his tweets receive hundreds of favourites and retweets by other users.
He has unintentionally triggered some rather amusing stuff on the web, too. The blog Alain de Bottom pairs up pearls of wisdom from the philosopher with images from 1990s comedy show Bottom, which starred Rick Mayall and Adrian Edmondson. I can’t quite decide whether the blog is affectionate or mocking.
Personally, I do struggle to “get” the little I’ve read by him. I find, for instance, that his tweets tend to state the obvious. I also fail to understand the premise behind a book called The Art of Travel when clearly, objectively, there is no such thing – at least, any more than there is an “art of life” or an “art of thinking”.
The other day, a tweet by Alain de Botton was retweeted by someone else into my timeline.
It isn’t disrespectful to the complexity of existence to point out that despair is, often, just low blood sugar and exhaustion.
— Alain de Botton (@alaindebotton) February 19, 2013
To which I could not help but wonder aloud:
It is a great mystery of our modern age, that someone somewhere pays Alain de Botton actual money.
— Simon Varwell (@simonvarwell) February 19, 2013
About an hour later, I received an email.
Thanks for your tweet. If you’d like me to explain more closely, I’d be happy to try to shed some light.
Congratulations on your website and all good wishes,
Instantly, I was suspicious. It came from what an email address that contained his website domain, but such things are easy to fake if you know how. My suspicions were directed towards good friends Niall and Justin, both of whom have been known to play such pranks in the past (Justin, for instance, once wrote to me pretending to be David Icke). I challenged them and they both denied it.
This left me with the assumption that perhaps, it really was him. That he’d searched for himself on Twitter, seen the tweets where people had used his name, saw mine, and decided to respond to it. Was it just mine? Did he regularly do vanity searches, and did he reply to everyone who mentioned him? If so, he could be a busy man.
It was odd. But I figured that replying with honesty and frankness (offering neither rudeness nor a grovelling retraction) was the only way to get to the
botton bottom of it.
Thanks for your email. It was an obvious surprise to receive it as you might imagine. I thought that friends had sent it as a spoof, hence the delay while I obtained denials from likely suspects.
My tweet – and apologies if it sounded rude – expressed a mild degree of wonder at the nature of your work. It’s like the old joke which I’m sure you’ve heard of philosophy graduates never seeing a job advert that says “Wanted: Philosopher”.
The tweet that particularly sparked my reaction was the one that said “It isn’t disrespectful to the complexity of existence to point out that despair is, often, just low blood sugar and exhaustion.” While I can’t fault your logic here, and indeed I can testify to it personally, my curiosity stems from the fact that it seems so obvious as to not be worth stating.
And this is a theme I feel that runs through your offerings on Twitter. Maybe I’m a cold-hearted pragmatist (I tried reading Paul Coelho but gave up after a few pages), but isn’t much of what you tweet pretty obvious? Or alternatively is there no harm in sometimes stating the obvious, if certain people thrive on the reassurance that it provides or if they can’t see the clarity in life through the fog that sometimes descends?
Who, I suppose I am wondering, is the “target” or likely constituency for your writing? Maybe it’s hard for any writer to answer that question, so if it is an unfair one I apologise.
Thanks again for dropping a line, and all the best in your work. May others “get” it more than I do!
Very quickly, a reply came back.
Thanks for your gracious note, I didn’t mean to embarrass you. Only to learn.
I believe you’re clearly a highly intelligent, reflexive person for whom many ‘truths’ aren’t any kind of revelations, they are just your obvious common sense. Sadly, for me, and for many others, less well endowed intellectually, we like to be reminded of obvious things, which while they aren’t complete revelations, can be crisply said and therefore gain a place in our distracted and weak minds.
What most bothers me is people’s routine assumption that Twitter is an innocent medium in which one can be as rude as one likes about pretty much anyone without consequence. Rudeness always hurts someone – and if there’s space for one truth that isn’t yet common sense to you, it is to remember to be kind towards those perhaps less intellectually blessed than you’ve been.
With good wishes,
It was a striking reply. Firstly, I don’t know why he thought me as intellectually superior (or thought it was valid to make me feel that I was). But secondly, his words at the very least showed a humanity. It was a reminder, as if we needed it, that famous people are just ordinary human beings and are capable of being hurt or offended with the rest of us. It’s an acute issue in this age of instant communication where, through social media, once-remote public figures can be put in direct contact with ordinary people.
You don’t have to rummage deeply online to find a controversy about personal abuse of famous people, often masked behind the cowardly cloak of anonymity. This article by radio presenter Richard Bacon is a sobering exploration of the effect it can have, while the often surreal events at the Leveson Inquiry highlighted the terrible abuse and violation of well-known people that can emanate from society’s obsession with celebrity.
Not to say that my original tweet about Alain de Botton was remotely comparable with the evils of the gutter press or the deranged hate-spouting of online trolls. I don’t even think my tweet was particularly rude. Critical, yes, and probably unChristian, but certainly not what you’d classify as offensive. And I’m perfectly entitled to a less than stellar opinion of de Botton’s work, despite the fact he came over as charming and thoughtful in his emails. But all that said, I could have phrased my original tweet more politely, and I could have tweeted directly at him rather than referring to him in the third person with no consideration that he’d “overhear”.
Not wishing to protract a conversation unnecessarily, I wrapped things up with Alain de Botton with one short, final email.
Hi again Alain
I’d respectfully dispute your assessment that I’m especially highly intelligent or somehow more intellectually endowed. A bit rude in my tweet, perhaps, yes, for which I apologise again. There are lots of cases out there of famous people being badly hurt by abuse on Twitter. I’d hate to think I could contribute to that.
Twitter is rather like a large room where everyone is capable of hearing and reacting to everything that’s said about them. It seems to be a good rule of Twitter that if you wouldn’t say something about someone to their face, don’t say it at all.
It’s probably a good rule for life, too.
In fact, if it could fit into 140 characters, it’s the sort of thing Alain de Botton himself might tweet.
As I mentioned on my blog a few weeks ago, I did a recent spell as the tweeter on the ScotVoices account. That is, of course, one of many “national” Twitter accounts where someone from the country tweets about their life, their country, and indeed anything (within reason) they fancy.
I’ve now had a couple of weeks or so to mull over my experience, and feel I should blog a wee report on how it went.
Before I do, though, I had every intention – thanks to a suggestion from my opposite number on the Pakistan account – to “storify” my week’s conversations. Storify is a handy little tool that searches, records and presents tweets (or indeed emanations on other social media platforms) in the form of a conversation that you can later easily read through and present to others. To do a whole week of tweets was admittedly a little vain, but I felt it would be a nice way to remember the week as well as pick out highlights when it came to writing it up.
It was also, however, an enormously fiddly process to transfer several thousand tweets at once, and – long story short – she couldn’t handle it, Captain. I emailed Storify and – to my enormous surprise – a friendly, fluent English-speaking human being wrote back to apologise. Basically, he explained, the system is not designed for the capturing of many hundreds of tweets at once, but saw that there was great potential in it being used by “national” accounts like ScotVoices, and he said he would pass the idea on to colleagues.
So that aside, you’ll have to cope with my memory.
And in a nutshell, being ScotVoices was a blast.
The first thing I noticed was that the experience was very different from my own Twitter account. I was tweeting more often than I would for my personal account, and there was a huge level of interaction, with anything I tweeted rendering a number of replies or retweets and indeed often generating long conversations between various users.
That was nothing to do with the quality or nature of anything I said, but simply to do with the numbers of people following the account. I think my personal account had, at the start of my ScotVoices week, around 400 followers (though its grown since as a result). ScotVoices, however, had something like 2,500, and I was totally unused to this level of interest and interaction. Trying to be polite and engaged as possible, I replied to as much as I could. While it was all fascinating, it was at times exhausting in a way to keep up with everything.
It was fun, though, and that was because I tried as much as possible to ask questions and generate discussion. The account after all is about reflecting the country, and life is as much about questions as pronouncements. In any case, asking a question then sitting back is sometimes easier than trying to spout forth on something in a balanced way.
So I posed a number of questions over the week: about the nature of Scotland, the relationship between the cities and the rest of the country, or (and this was a popular one) people’s best photos of Scotland.
My favourite discussion, though, was when I turned the independence referendum debate on its head. Rather than asking people’s views (which had been done by previous custodians of the account), I instead asked people who subscribed strongly to either yes or no to share what they thought the opposite side’s strongest argument was. There’s too much polarisation in politics, not least these days in Scotland, and so it was fun to get everyone thinking as objectively as they could about the views of the “other side”.
I wasn’t passive in all the discussions, however, and did “lead” at other points. I went on an admittedly predictable evangelical rant about the merits of Esperanto, and to be fair did get a lot of positive interest from it. I also, on a day off, went on a couple of hours’ “photo walk” around Inverness, tweeting photographs of various parts of the city, going into bits of local history where I knew it, and generally sharing a flavour the city I live in. Judging by the responses, this was probably one of the best received parts of my week on the account, and was certainly one of my favourites to do.
When I visited Edinburgh for work at the start of my week, I even attempted to convene a face to face gathering in a pub for whoever was in the area. After 30 minutes of waiting, nobody had turned up so I headed to my hotel… only to receive a tweet a wee while later asking where I was. It was from none other than an MSP who was an old comrade in arms from our days in the SNP Students at Aberdeen University. I set followers on a fun guessing game as to which MSP it was that I’d inadvertently stood up, and the first correct guess won a copy of my book (as did the MSP himself for his trouble).
I learned a lot, too, over the course of the week. I learned, for instance, that there’s a huge amount of international interest in Scotland. Many of the account’s followers, judging by those who interacted with me, are from European and North American countries. While awareness of the independence referendum was surprisingly low (it was a question I specifically asked), there was a huge general interest in and love of Scottish people, culture, scenery and history.
I also learned a lot from other countries – not only those people who replied who were following the account, but also the the many other foreign accounts that ScotVoices was already following. I had good chats with my equivalent tweeters on the Pakistan, Egypt, Sweden and Netherlands accounts, and it was nice to have a brief crossing of paths with people from so many different countries – like a sort of “citizen’s United Nations”.
Finally, from a discussion I sparked about Scottish food, I learned that porridge made with banana-flavoured Yazoo is something I really must try some time.
My experience on ScotVoices convinced me that social media really does have a place. It doesn’t have to be all about trolls, abuse, mudslinging and endless pictures of cats. It can be a place where windows are opened to other parts of the world, jokes and ideas can cross cultural boundaries, and we can give real voices to real people.
It was an exciting week. Though I’m rather glad to be back to just the one Twitter account.
Rather excitingly and terrifyingly, I’m the voice of Scotland for the coming week.
Well, not quite.
I guess I’d better explain. One of the nicer phenomenons (phenomena? Phenomenii?) on Twitter is a number of “national” accounts, where one person from the country in question looks after the Twitter account for a week and (within reason) tweets about whatever they like. It’s a lovely way of giving ordinary people a voice and getting their fellow countryfolk to think about certain things and to generate a bit of a national conversation. Or, given it’s Twitter and it’s only a week, and “national conversation” sounds too political, “national chat” probably sounds better.
I think – and I might be wrong – that @sweden was the first such national account, and a few weeks ago @ScotVoices was started up and you can read the background (and meet past tweeters) here. I’ve really enjoyed following it so far, and the range of individuals who’ve held the conch have been very interesting and thought-provoking in their own different ways. The platform that such a range of different people are given reminds me of The Listserve, which I blogged about this past summer and which I can thoroughly commend to you.
Anyway, long story short – I’m privileged to be this week’s tweeter on the ScotVoices account, starting from this evening. It will be fun to interact with a range of different people and play a wee part in the discussions that the account has generated about who we are as Scotland, where we’re going, and what we’re all up to.
Hopefully I’ll do it justice. Follow the account and join in!
I realised, on my way back from Luxembourg in November, that I’d been lucky enough to tick off eight foreign countries this year.
First up was a work trip to Romania, swiftly followed by our wonderful five-country overland trip through Europe that took in France, Switzerland, Austria, Slovenia and Germany. Then our weekend in Luxembourg also saw a couple of hours in Belgium.
It’s the most countries I’ve been to in a year since 2001, when Niall and I did our big four month journey from Frankfurt to Cairo. That trip took in sixteen countries (I think), and I’ve not come anywhere near that total since.
2012′s eight countries is halfway to that record, which isn’t bad for stuff done mostly in leave from work. It proves that with a bit of saving and planning you don’t need to quit your job in order to travel lots.
That said, I’m less chuffed that this year’s countries were all repeat visits. In thinking about it, I haven’t actually visited a new country since Spain (and, briefly, Portugal) in 2010. A trip which, incidentally, I still hope to explore in blog form one day.
Now I’m not one for travelling with a checklist, and arguably it’s better to visit one country in depth than five superficially. After all, I’m saying I visited Belgium this year on the back of about three hours, and my claim that I visited Portugal is based on a mere thirty minute hop over the border from Spain in 2010. So it’s always an inexact and misleading indicator of one’s travels.
It’s also nice (and, on the whole, cheap) to do things more domestically, such this year’s hillwalking (1|2) or the trip to Edinburgh for The Next Stop. Scotland’s a great place that I am sure I’ll never bore of exploring. That said, as someone so keen on travel I sometimes find it rather tempting to keep a running total of countries.
I think that total is somewhere in the mid- to late-thirties, which means I’m now lagging seriously behind Niall, with whom I’ve had an informal “country total” competition for some years now. Of course, it’s been a few years since he began working on oil rigs around the world and then commenced his wonder hunting, so it’s fair to concede that it’s been dead and buried as a meaningful contest for some time.
I’ve no idea where my next travels are. Earlier this year I seriously considered the idea of going to the world Esperanto congress in Rejkjavik in August 2013. Iceland is a country I’ve long wanted to visit, and indeed it’s probably at the top of my wishlist. For cost reasons, though, I had to rule it out. I would have wanted to not just participate in the congress and see a bit of Rejkjavik but would also have done a tour of the country as a whole while I was there. Even with cost-cutting measures such as camping or Couchsurfing, research suggested that it would still have been a prohibitively expensive trip. Another time, then.
There’s also the as yet unvisited half of the list of 28 mullet places, mostly in the USA. They, however, are firmly on the back burner until I get my second book out and perhaps earn a bit of money from it that could fuel another mullet trip. And frankly I really ought to be focussing more on both my forthcoming books rather than indulging in new large-scale trips I can’t yet afford.
That said, there’s talk of a more modest adventure in 2013 – another wonder hunt with Niall to pick off more French candidates. That should, if it goes ahead, be reassuringly close by, easy and enjoyable.
So apart from that, then, I think I need to focus on the writing. 2012′s travels have been fun, but there are books to get done. Major new travels can wait.
Some weeks back, I came up with a joke I was really proud of. When I tweeted it I got a couple of retweets and comments, and when I’ve told it in person it’s got a lot of laughs.
Now, the point of this post is not self-aggrandisement (well, no more than the rest of this website is) but bear with me for a moment while I tell and explain the joke.
Tightened in the telling slightly, to fit into Twitter’s 140-character limit, it goes thus:
An Edinburgh man is on his 6th visit to Mongolia, and stays at the same campsite. The receptionist says “you’ll have had yurt E?”
— Simon Varwell (@simonvarwell) October 14, 2012
For those not acquainted with Scottish humour, “you’ll have had your tea?” is a phrase mockingly associated with the good people of Edinburgh who are unfairly characterised as being a little prim, conservative and unwelcoming to guests. And a yurt is a Mongolian tent.
Or so I thought.
I got an email yesterday from a friend saying that he’s been retelling my joke on a number of occasions and getting a great response (perhaps he tells it better than me), until one occasion when someone told him that the joke was flawed.
As my friend relays, a yurt is apparently more of a Tibetan thing, and in Mongolia they are called gers. Though upon conducting extensive research into the matter, Wikipedia is slightly ambiguous about this, implying that a ger is just a type of yurt rather than something distinct from it.
I’m a bit of a pedant, and I always like it if jokes are not only funny but technically correct and culturally sensitive too. If anyone can boast a degree of authority on the issues of the large tented structures of central Asia, please share your wisdom in the comments below.
I was away this weekend past with Nicole and a bunch of friends to do some hillwalking and cycling. Based near Braemar in the Cairngorms National Park we had two excellent days, both of which involved longish cycles and then Munro-climbing at the end.
Our first day saw us tackle Carn Bhac, south of Braemar. It was a cycle of seventeen miles in total down a long track (see first photo), followed by a mercifully easy and short climb up the hill. The weather had been forecast to be miserable, with rain and even snow at height. In the end it was cold and a little breezy but not too much rain, and much better than we had been expecting.
On the Sunday, we headed north to Derry Cairngorm, which involved a long cycle out to the abandoned Derry Lodge on the Mar Estate (below), and then a long climb over a couple of peaks (see bottom photo) and several frustrating false horizons before eventually leading us to Derry Cairngorm itself.
The weather again exceeded expectation and forecast, with a brief snow shower at the peak of Derry Cairngorm, and mostly grey skies that occasionally gave way to bright sunshine and views for miles around.
This was a sparsely populated part of the country, with the major draw being mountains. From the peaks you could see nothing but hills and mountains all around, and it was great to have been able to get away for the weekend.
It was also something of a revelation in that it was my first time of combining hillwalking with cycling. It opens up so many doors, so to speak, in that you can reach much further into the wilderness on a bike. So many peaks are hard to reach without a car or overnight camping, so the bike was a mode of transport I’d love to try again in this context.
Plus, there was nothing more satisfying after a gruelling morning cycle and a hard day’s climb than freewheeling a few miles on a gentle downhill gradient, a cold beer awaiting you at the other end.
In between my two stints in Inverness (second one still going, of course, with no end in sight – which is no bad thing), I spent eighteen months in Glasgow. Apart from the rain, pollution, accent, insular attitude, sectarianism, Buckfast, traffic and lack of access to the hills, I really enjoyed it.
Glasgow boasts (and boy, does it boast) a compelling character, some lovely green space, a great nightlife, fabulous museums and so much diversity between the city’s different areas. Plus it has a subway and a suburban rail network, which for a train geek like me is great.
That’s all slightly by the by, though. While living in Glasgow, it was around the time I was trying to write up my early mullet-hunting adventures into a book, and I made huge progress while living in Glasgow (it was probably the rain). One factor was some routine I managed to instill in myself, meeting weekly with a friend to write in a west end coffee shop. It was a lovely wee place, with a friendly owner, Lou, and lovely drinks – not least the quite magnificent and never-since-matched white hot chocolate (cream, no marshmallows, thanks).
It was called Biblocafe, so-called because it was also a place to buy second-hand books (not to mention the occasional photo or painting that people exhibited).
When my first book came out back in 2010 and I was looking for somewhere to do a Glasgow reading, Biblocafe was suggested to me. Having owed a lot to the place for getting the book written, I thought that a highly appropriate idea and approached Lou who very happily hosted my event.
It was a lovely evening, with something in the region of twenty or so people stowing out the ground floor (see picture) and being awfully sporting in buying a good pile of books between them.
Not living in Glasgow, of course, I’m not convinced I’ve been back to Biblocafe since the reading. I was sad to discover on Facebook the other day, though, that it’s now closed.
Here’s the full story from Lou herself – it’s sad that it’s down to circumstances that were totally outwith the business’s control, and in a part of Glasgow that thrived on friendly independent bookshops, it’s a really sad loss, not just for the area but of course for Lou who as the owner who worked so hard to make it a really enjoyable place to hang out.
When, in thirty or forty years’ time, they do the inevitable documentary about the making of Up The Creek Without a Mullet, they won’t be able to visit Biblocafe and say that this is where most of it was written.
Neither will they be able to get a white hot chocolate with cream and no marshmallows. Come to think about it, I don’t think I’ve ever seen white hot chocolate served anywhere else since then.
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