Walking with Christopher McCullough on 29 October 2011

October 31, 2011

 

Highgate Cemetery

I am walking with friend and former colleague, Christopher McCullough. Chris has chosen Highgate Cemetery, so walking on the Saturday before Halloween is perfect timing. The attractions of Highgate Cemetery are multiple: the Victorian spactacuralisation – or grand theatricalisation – of death; the related gothic funereal architecture (Chris has nearly completed his book on theatre and the gothic); and last, but not least, the grave of Karl Marx.

The only way to visit the West Cemetery is to join a tour. As it’s first come first served I’m pleased that we’re first in the 1.30pm queue. Ushered through the large metal gates, one side of the court yard forms an almost semi-circle of archways, on the walls of which hang small memorial stones. Having paid our dues, we are gathered together by our guide. Though she tells us her name, I am already distracted by the environment and am not listening with enough attention. (Chris thinks it is Dee, and she is clearly Scottish – surely that would be too uncanny?) We are told a little about how to behave (keep up please, feel free to take photos unless you’re told not to), and about the history of Highgate Cemetery.

Highgate is one of seven private cemeteries created in the borough of London in the early nineteenth century. As the urban population grew in response to increasing industrialisation, so too did the numbers of the dead. Burial space became inadequate, leading to unauthorised burials, shallow graves, and overcrowded grave yards. Highgate West opened in 1839, and in 1856 the East wing of the cemetery was opened, adding another 20 acres to that of the existing 17. The Highgate Cemetery was popular amongst the Victorians because it provided a safe place for the interment of loved ones – locked gates and high walls precluded the body snatchers.

Historical context furnished, we ascend the stone steps that lead us into the cemetery – and immediately find ourselves in an iconic film set, lifted straight out of Hammer House of Horror. Crumbling headstones stand higgedly piggedly, as if shifted from below; some look as if they are about to fall over, standing at a very drunken tilt. Greening stone crosses are swallowed up by dense Ivy, old trees cast a blanket of dark, punctured by shafts of sunlight that find their way through the thinning, bronzed vegetation, landing on an Angel’s face; bits of fallen statuary sink into the mud, colonised by grasses.

We stop first beside the grave of the coach driver, James William Selby, who set the record for the fastest ride between London and Bristol (7 hours 50 minutes). His memorial is embellished with a horn and whip, and upturned horse shoes. Another sculpture marks the death of a nineteen year old woman – an ornate tower inside which sits a large empty chair. Our tour guide attempts to take us to the graves of the Rosettis’, and Chris is particularly keen to see where Elizabeth Siddal is buried (mostly because he is imagining Dante Gabriel Rosetti disinterring her in order to retrieve a book of poetry he had buried with her. True or false?) Unfortunately, our guide fails to locate any Rosetti stone, or Siddal’s. (How she could ‘forget’ where they are, when they are undoubtedly the graves most visitors desire to see, bemuses us. For the time being, Lizzie shall remain an enigma and a reason to return another day.) On the way of our goose chase, we pass by the first recent grave of our tour; that of Alexander Litvinenko, the former Russian spy poisoned in London in 2006. A coloured, framed photograph pictures him as very much alive. The flat surface of his grave is covered by a lush ivy blanket.

The way the crumbling, disappearing markers of lives lived long ago rub alongside the fresh testimonies is odd; but it does bring into focus the temporality of all things. These newer markers will, in time, become dust too. The difference in attitudes to death are also profound. The ostentatiousness of the showy Victorian funerals (with this graveyard on a hill providing a perfect raked stage for maximum performance of wealth and permanence in the face of death and disappearance) has given way to modest, and even fragile reminders of presence, their very impermanence seeming to embrace temporariness.

Our tour leads us upwards through the cemetery, to the utterly bizarre Egyptian Avenue – a street lined with 8 vaults on each side. (The architecture of the cemetery mixes up the neo-gothic with the neo-classical, and now adds the faux-Egyptian). Holes in the vaults’ doors are for the easy access of bats. (Yes, the cemetery is meant to be haunted by at least one vampire…) Walking up the incline of the avenue, we reach a circular structure of more vaults, these ones built around an ancient, huge Cedar of Lebanon. Around this circle, another row of vaults – one of which houses Radclyffe Hall. The vault belonged to Radclyffe’s first lover, Mabel Veronica Batten. The epitaph is from Radclyffe’s second lover, Batten’s cousin, Una Troubridge. The guide tells us that Batten’s husband is also interred in the vault. I love the complexity and am pleased to see fresh flowers splash vibrant colour against the black iron doors.

Further steps lead to a more open outlook, filled with an assortment of graves. The one that most takes our guide’s fancy belongs to the ‘menagerist’ George Wombwell – his life celebrated by a life-size lion guarding over him. This makes more sense than the grave of a horse butcher being marked by the statue of a (small) horse…

Our tour comes to its end and we are left to walk through the adjacent East cemetery at our leisure. The feel is startlingly different – the flora is less dense so it is much lighter and the majority of the graves are also more recent. We make a bee line to the huge, impressive bust of Karl Marx’s head. A row of white carnations seems a hopeful gesture. George Eliot’s stone is a heavy grey obelisk. Malcolm McClaren’s is surprisingly modest: a roughly hewn iconic wooden sign marks the spot: MM: MALCOM WAS HERE. If it’s not in bad taste to have a favourite, mine is artist Patrick Caulfield’s, which tells the same story as Malcolm’s, but even more to the point (and extremely stylishly): DEAD.

Thankfully, not yet.

Walking with Stephen Hodge on 9 September 2011

September 18, 2011

 

Paris Arcades

I am walking with my friend and former colleague Stephen. Travelling from Exeter and Glasgow respectively, we rendezvous in Paris. Stephen has been instrumental in my engagement with site-responsive performance practices and I do wonder if I would even be doing this project if we hadn’t met. Stephen himself is influenced by the avant-garde and today’s walk will touch on the heels of Walter Benjamin and those earlier walkers, the flâneurs, as well as retracing Stephen’s own footsteps from 2004 (reconaissance trip for Wrights & Sites A Mis-Guide to Anywhere). We will spend the day botanizing in the nineteenth century Paris Arcades, looking for nothing in particular but seeing plenty.

Starting the walk after a petit déjeuner (croissants, crêpes), we begin at the Rue St Denis – an artery that runs through the city – and walk north. It’s early yet and the shops are just beginning to display their wares; uncanny, blank faced shop dummies take their sentry positions on the pavements, showing off cheap street wear (thick gold chains, sunglasses, baseball caps, studded belts, plastic ‘leather’ jackets). At the corner of Rue de Cygne, a glazed tiled panel displays a ‘beau Cygne’, its white feathers almost intact. We soon arrive at our first arcade, the Passage Bourg L’Abbé (c.1828).

Curved glass skylights stretch the length of the passage, throwing light; pale wooden panelling, wooden window frames, wooden doors; a clock hanging from the ceiling at one end, a barometer at the other; frosted pale glass lights attached to walls above, symmetrically lining the sides (electric now, but at one time gas lamps); painted ceiling panels and woodwork; mostly locked and empty shops, dusty windows, objects left behind, locked up inside; ripped posters; one store in business – the wood restorer (c.1965). Very few people walking through.

Almost directly opposite…

Passage du Grand Cerf (c.1834, 1835) Iron fretwork, glass skylights, bridges suspended in the air, floating green glass lamps, painted ceiling between glass panels; tiled mosaic floor; shops for luxurious living, scented, expensive, glittery, gleaming. No dust. But empty too. Shops mostly closed. Holidays? Too early?

Passage is a better name than Arcade because the passages are in-betweens. We enter in one world, travel through an in-between world (which is a world in its own right, different from the one we just left), and step out into another world, different from the one we started from and different again from the one we have just travelled through. The passage funnels us along and deposits us in an unknown, unforeseen, unexpected place. Stepping out of Passage du Grand Cerf, we find ourselves in Place Goldoni, looking at a grey and white wall studded with white and yellow, white and blue, white and green flat footballs – tiles or ceramics maybe – along with flattened, black crow sculptures.

Passage de la Trinité (c.1827), uncovered, one of the few with a curve, two striking red doors, side by side.

A  shop selling nothing but buttons – clear bags of wooden buttons in the window. Button series. I could stand and gaze for hours.

Passage Basfour. Uncovered. Short, narrow street, square cobbles, no shops, wrought iron lights.

Passage du Caire (c.1798), glass ceiling, black iron fittings, bustle, workday, everyday, large cardboard boxes portered, clothes shops, and clothes shops, and windows full of shop dummies, dummies for sale (surprisingly expensive per unit), a fretwork of iron at one end – angular ‘curves’ creating a futurist sculpture, dust clinging to iron work like a snug felt covering.

Passage du Ponceau (c.1826), black iron gate, glass roof – but dark nevertheless, black lamps, Sushi restaurant.

Passage Sainte-Foy (c.1813), uncovered, shuttered shops.

Passage Lemoine, uncovered, building works, open window high up, showing shelves of ring binders – green, black, red – a glimpse into an office at work.

Along Rue St Denis and passing under Porte St Denis – smell of piss – and the street becomes Rue du Faubert St Denis. Turn into…

Passage du Prado (c.1785), faded blue sign, expanse of glass above, mirrors to refract the light even further, broken tiled floor, shuttered-up stalls, but the echo of empty replaced round the corner by multiple barber shops buzzing hair, African cafés, hotel at one end, a passage through sub-Saharan worlds where we are the minority.

Passage de L’Industrie, open air, wig shops, pharmacies.

Passage Brady (1828), a version of India, heavily themed restaurants, incense sticks, tables outside, green carpets, glass roof above, a long passage crossing over another street into open air Passage Brady, making me aware that the passage is a street.

Passage Reilhac, uncovered, leading to a closed gate, past back doors to restaurants, a trolley carting boxes of Scottish whisky, sacks of rice, a water fountain without water.

Across the road…

Cour et Passage des Petites Ecuries, uncovered, peeling sign, a wall of lush grasses – growing vertically, a weathered picture frame framing the brick wall, plush restaurants, desirable apartments, a bin stuffed with dead flowers.

Passage du Desir, large wooden green doors, locked shut, a teasing fretwork of iron offering a glimpse of what lies behind – a residential idyll.

The walk changes atmosphere as we cross Boulevard de Magenta, the streets are wider, lighter, towards Gare du Nord.

Passage Delanos, a gated community, behind the huge black wooden doors a peek at ivy clad, newly refurbished apartments.

This is our last Passage. Stephen thinks we have missed one (ironically, it turns out to be Passage d’Etienne  – the passage of Stephen). They do not announce their presence. You have to keep your eyes peeled, alert to both sides of the street. We have walked our way up an artery that ends in a distinctive part of the city: Indian shop facades a rainbow of colours, bejewelled saris, trinkets, Buddhas. Haussmann’s ideal apartments line the wide streets, balconies bedecked with plants.

Strolling from south to north, cutting across east to west and west to east, we have travelled through time and space, immersed in an unpredictable, yet internally ordered kaleidoscope of different worlds. Stephen notices that as we move north the passages ‘transform from well to-do shops, to geographically distinct everyday marketplaces and social spaces to more exclusive, residential worlds’.

Our walk has been rich on the eyes and easy on the feet. The pleasure in falling back into familiar step with a much missed friend has been immense. Later today we will walk another 10 kilometres, following in Erik Satie’s footsteps (with a brief detour to the church of St Julien le Pauvre – site of a Dada excursion in 1921). But the tales of that walk remain Stephen’s to tell.

Walking with Nicola and Thomas on 8 September 2011

September 13, 2011

 

 

Paris via Nicola & Haussmann

I am walking with my old university friend, Nicola. Since receiving my birthday invitation Nicola has moved to Paris and has had a baby. Though Nicola and I lost touch for years, our paths crossed once more in the world of research – me with walking, Nicola with children’s geography. It seems highly appropriate then that we are accompanied on our walk today by Nicola’s son, Thomas (silent ‘s’).

Nicola knows that tomorrow I will be visiting the Arcades – or Passages – so has decided to contrast this by exposing me to some of Haussmann’s boulevards – radical nineteenth-century impositions on mediaeval street (un)plans, serving to modernise (organise, rationalise, sanitise) the city. Collecting me from my hotel on Rue Bergère, I meet Thomas for the first time – a beautifully tanned, dark-eyed little boy of 14 months. Nicola suggests we start our walk with lunch, an excellent idea. En route, we pass the apartment where she lived when she first moved to Paris, and where Thomas also spent the first few months of his life. This is actually located right on one of Haussmann’s boulevards – the Boulevard St. Martin, between the Porte St. Denis and Porte St Martin. Nicola lived on the second floor – and though she only recently moved out to Alfortville, the building has already changed, a new shop now on the ground floor. Pointing to the building next to hers, Nicola tells me that this one is an example of a classic ‘Haussmann’ façade. Haussmann’s vision for Paris extended beyond the straight, wide, geometric, efficient and manageable streets to the buildings that lined them. ‘Haussmannian’ apartments have balconies on the second and fifth floors. Once Nicola had pointed out this example to me, I see it repeated endlessly throughout the city – and marketed in estate agents.

Crossing the wide Boulevard St. Martin, we make our way up Rue de Lancry, past Nicola’s favourite boulangerie, and turn left down Rue de Vinaigriers. Nicola has decided to take me to a decidedly un-Parisian eatery – a wonderful Vegan café (‘Voy Alimento’) that clearly used to be a regular haunt. Having asked her how her French was coming on – and having received a modest reply – I feel proud to hear her chatting confidently with the café’s owner. (Nicola and I suffer from a shared Scottish education, where grammar was jettisoned from the curriculum, meaning that our second language skills are also pretty diabolical.) We order the grande assiete complete, and whilst I have little idea of what I am eating, I eat confidently knowing that it is sans viande! Washed down with ‘Purple Juice’ this is healthy super-food, setting us up for the walk ahead. (Thomas has less exciting pureed fruit.)

When Nicola first moved to Paris she walked her way into the city by walking around it, seeking out ‘her’ places in a strange landscape, locating anchors that served to anchor her (the favourite boulangerie, the vegan café, the park). One of the places that has always drawn her is the Canal St Martin. The canal’s lock is just next to Rue de Vinaigriers, so we make our way there, watching the water swirl violently as the water levels shift for a journeying boat. This is where some of Amelie was filmed. Nicola likes the relative calm of the canal; the fact that it’s not a prettified walk – you have to go up, over, around, to follow it – adds to its interest. Haussmann covered over some sections of the canal. Passing by a fire station, Nicola instructs me on the rituals of Bastille Day, when each station takes responsibility for the Bastille celebrations, throwing a party. We stroll up the Quai de Jemmapes and cross over to the Quai de Valmy – Nicola is right in that this is the first walk where my walker (confidently, expertly) changes a nappy mid-way through! At the Rotunde de Villette – a rotunda toll house from Louis XVI’s reign, for taxing the goods coming into the city – we negotiate more wide boulevards and a tree lined avenue in order to rejoin the canal.

Here, the canal opens out into the Basin de Villette – a wider, more managed expanse of water. On each side of the basin – curiously – a cinema. In the summer, people bring their blankets here and picnic. (Though it’s dry today – despite the forecast – it’s too chilly for lounging about). Following her sense of direction – this is how Nicola navigates the city – we begin to drift eastwards, away from the water. Nicola is leading us towards another of her favourite places – the Parc Des Buttes Chaumont – and another connection to Haussmann. (Haussmann and Nicola cross frequently on this walk.)

Passing the grand mairie (town hall) at Place Armand Carrell, we enter the Parc. Opened in 1867, the park was developed as part of Haussmann’s plans for Paris, transforming a quarry into an exemplar of the spectacularly unreal, Romantic picturesque. There is a Temple of Sybil (a column style monument perched atop a hill in the middle of a lake, offering spectacular views right across Paris, to the Sacre Coeur in the West), a grotto, a suspension bridge, and a 100 foot waterfall cascading down a wholly manmade cliff face. Even the railings made of concrete are designed to resemble tree branches.

The third largest park in Paris, we are able to take many different turns and detours, and in fact to walk routes new to Nicola too. Slogging up one of the many steep hills (Nicola must have excellent muscles from pushing the buggy), we stop for a well earned refreshment at the Rosa Bonheur (wine for me, fruit beer for Nicola, water for Thomas who awakens now that the buggy has stopped). I pick a conker from the ground, to take back to Glasgow with me, a reminder of a walk with an old friend settling comfortably into a new place as summer fades. Au revoir Nicola et Thomas. Á bientôt!

Walking with Cathy Turner on 10 August 2011

August 14, 2011

Ullswater

I am walking with my friend Cathy Turner. Cathy and I have been writing about women artists who use walking in their work. Though perhaps not a woman artist, Dorothy Wordsworth was certainly a remarkable and admirable walker, much of that walking undertaken in the Lake District. This is one of the reasons Cathy has invited me to join her in the Lake District; another is that she has always wanted to visit this part of the UK. Our walk takes us around the eastern shore of Ullswater Lake – the second largest lake in the Lake District, formed by three glaciers. This is also the lake about which William Wordsworth wrote: “it is the happiest combination of beauty and grandeur, which any of the lakes affords”.

Though beautifully sunny the day before, on the drive over to Glenridding the rain is pretty torrential. We are met by an appropriately equipped Cathy though, sporting fluorescent green waterproofs kindly lent by her mum. Setting off from Glenridding – almost immediately it seems as if the rain eases – we walk along a track running parallel to the road that leads us to the hamlet of Patterdale. Engrossed in discussion about Ibsen, Nietzsche, theatre and architecture (‘the master builder’) we fail to spot a subtle sign and have to retrace our steps. No matter, though, as our conversation remains engaged. The sign, once seen, informs us that we have a 5½ mile walk to Howtown. A track leads behind a farm and past a field filled with sodden wet tents. The hills to the east are gloomily ghosted in cloud cover, though as we walk their shrouds begin to lift.

Gently, we climb a little higher, gaining a better view of the lake below. Somewhere on the western side, opposite us, lies Aira Point, a spot Cathy had visited the day before. This is the site that inspired William Wordsworth’s poem, “Daffodils” (1804). Or, rather, it inspired Dorothy to record in her journal in 1802 that the daffodils here “tossed and reeled and danced, and seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind that blew upon them over the lake”. Dorothy’s words, in turn, inspired William’s:

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

As Cathy points out, William wasn’t in fact wandering lonely, since he was accompanied – as was usual – by his devoted sister.

There’s little breeze today and though the sun is hidden by the thick cloud, the walking warms us. We pass and let pass a few large groups of walkers – some of them in identikit wetwear (red cagoules and waterproofs) – outward bounders not quite bounding along. A group of young lads struggle with rucksacks half their height. A paddle steamer steams up the lake – the boat we aim to catch for the return trip.

Coming to the top of the one of the few rises, we stop for a breath, a view, and a glance at the map. We’ve been walking – and talking – for more than a couple of hours, at a steady but albeit leisurely pace (the talking sometimes faster than the walking, putting the world to rights). Nevertheless, we both register some surprise that, judging from the little island in the water just below us, we are only at Silver Point – which is also the half way point. All of it is more shades of grey than silver today: the water, the sky, the distant hills – but the view down the length of the lake delivers more than a taste of Wordsworth’s ‘grandeur’.

Setting off again, the track beats a path through thick, dense bracken – taller than either of us. The pungent smell hurtles me back towards childhood and bracken dens. A few late season foxgloves break the green sea. A little way up the hill, the white of a waterfall cascades and soon we find ourselves walking towards a more clearly manicured landscape with boundaried fields, selected trees, a well-made stone dyke wall. This signals our approach to Sandwick – comprised of little more than a terrace of houses. Somewhat to our regret there is no sign of refreshments of any sort. A hand painted slate sign – FOOTPATH TO HOWTOWN – points the way over a cattle grid, guarded by a native sheep of the Lake District, the hardy Herdwick.

The look of the walk changes radically for a while – taking us down to the shores of the lake, within spitting distance of almost-sandy bays that on a sunnier day would have tempted me to dip my feet in the cooling lake. Then we climb a little again, but still hugging the shores of the lake, and this time through older native trees, the roots of oaks weaving across the surface. Rock steps are obligingly hewn into the rise and soon we once again wind our way along the bracken sided path, the hills rising steeply on our east. Rounding a corner, we gain a fantastic view right down the lake, to its northern-most shores. A little further round we spy Howtown. We also see the steamer departing and I worry that we might have a long wait till she returns – though hopefully a warm pub will make any such wait a bonus. As we close the distance between us and Howtown, though, we see the steamer already beginnings its return journey to the pier. Picking up the pace – so near and yet so far – we descend towards the shore. Thinking that we still have a chance we decide to make a last dash for it. Though we’ve walked about seven miles, here we both are, finishing in energetic style by breaking into a run. I’m impressed until I recollect that 7 miles would have been a walk in the park for Dorothy. She would think nothing of walking that distance to collect the post, and then turning around and walking home again. The steamer obligingly waits for us and I must admit that I’m rather glad we’re being carried back by the water. Here’s to Dorothy. And Cathy.

Walking with Carl Lavery on 27 July 2011

July 31, 2011

Little Sparta

I am walking with my friend Carl Lavery. Carl has travelled all the way up from Aberystwyth, in West Wales, so that we can walk together around Ian Hamilton Finlay’s Little Sparta. Though Little Sparta is located in the Pentland Hills, it’s as new to me as it is to Carl. The sign to Little Sparta is nearly missed – an unpresuming painted piece of wood, faded, peeling and tattered.

The dirt road to Little Sparta suits the earlier name of the Finlay family home, Stonypath. Looking behind us, the view to the Pentland Hills is one to breathe in. The grass is lush green – testimony to the fact that today’s sun is not to be taken for granted.

The first work we see, on the wall outside the garden, signals the complex contradictions that await within; as well as the education I will require to engage its many references, allusions and analogies. These stretch from the classics – Homer and Virgil – to German philosophy, to the French Revolution, all enmeshed with each other, the references cutting back and forward across the times and spaces – physical and imagined – of the garden. Virgil’s words, from the Eclogues VIII, greet us: ‘FLUTE, BEGIN WITH ME ARCADIAN NOTES’. This text is embossed onto metal, in turn encased in a work-a-day red brick wall. The image beneath the text, though, is of a rifle. Beneath this, a smaller sign states ‘February 1983’, presumably the year that the creation of Little Sparta, as a site of/for art, commenced. Our minds at the outset are prompted to engage with the seeming enigma: Within the idyll, darker political forces? Within the idyll, the threat of the outside? The threat of the outside necessary to the idyll inside? The creation of the Republic is bloody? (The creation of Little Sparta, its maintenance, makes its own demands and has innumerable costs?) The preservation of the idyll requires less than idyllic forces? After the revolution, what?

Next to this metalwork, a wooden gate, the top bar etched with the words: ‘das gepflugte Land the fluted land’. Looking over to the Pentland Hills, fluted seems the right word to bring them into view.

The site of Little Sparta is composed of eleven different sections. When we set off into the first garden, ‘The Front Garden’, we have no idea how large this garden will turn out to be. The front garden is domestic in scale, packed with flowers still in vibrant summer bloom, and fruit bushes bedecked and dripping with plump, ruby-red redcurrants; a waterfall of jewels ripe for the plucking. The berries are fittingly sweet and tart. This domestic garden is interrupted – punctuated – unsettled – doubled – overwritten – with repeated iterations of water, sea, ships: ‘WAVE SHEAF’, ‘SEA PINK’, ‘SCHOONER’, ‘CLIPPER’, mosaics or words etched into concrete slabs that guide our feet towards a patch of small ships atop plinths. These are not the romantic ships abreast romantic seas; they are all war ships bearing inscriptions of seeming torpedoed dates. And yet, they are small scale ships, aestheticised, domesticated, asking us to kneel down, to take a closer look. In contrast, above a gate, a plinth of huge letters that rub alongside and against the prophecies to or memories of armed destruction: THERE IS HAPPINESS.

Concrete poetry is literally housed in concrete:

Poems

    w

ritten upon the

    b

   reath

And stone speaks to or for wood, a memorial demanding that we ‘BRING BACK THE BIRCH’. One memorial stone simply, profoundly reads ‘Fragile’, its fragility performed by its visible aging.

Standing in one corner of the garden, a corner made tangible by the fence, I am struck by how fenced in Little Sparta is. Beyond: the field, scrubland, the beginning of a moor, the Pentland Hills. At points it feels like the garden is almost ‘pulled back’, like a curtain, to reveal the view on the oter side. Look! There it is! (At one moment, much to my amusement, Carl stands stock still, struck by his vision of a particular cloud – as if seen for the first time. ‘The cloudness of the cloud?’, I suggest, gently mocking but at the same time enjoying his deeply endearing and contagious Romantic perspective.

Over three hours we eagerly explore the many crafted and textured landscapes: The English Parkland (almost a parody – in miniature – of a manicured estate); Lochan Eck Garden (surely created for Finlay’s son, Alec?) which is visited by darting, metallic-blue dragonflies. Everywhere text-sculptures prompt our recognition, or a new cognition, of where we stand and out beyond here: the triplet – a series – of whitewashed beehives pronounce ‘BOUNTIFUL’, ‘SWEET PROMISE’ and ‘GOLDEN GAIN’. The word ‘WAVE’, etched in four different languages into rough hewn stone slabs, set within gently undulating hillocks. Other sculptures speak more from their singular physical presence. ‘Nuclear Sail’, a great slab of grey stone, waves on the shore of Lochan Eck, like a deadly nuclear submarine. The seemingly grand pillars of a gateway reveal themselves to be crowned with hand grenades. The incongruously huge and golden head of the handsome but ruthless Saint Just peers through the shadows of the arcadian glade – the words of Saint Just earlier encountered in the huge, fragmented concrete blocks resembling a violently shattered earth: ‘The present order is the disorder of the future’.

Paths through grasses, trees, shrubs and scrub pull us along, then teasingly demand we make choices, to detour or not into the undergrowth, across the stepping stones, taking time to read and ponder and discuss the words etched on sculpted memorial after memorial. Little Sparta is a poetic garden, a philosopical garden, a literary garden, an intellectual garden, a provocative garden, a challenging garden; rich and dense and surprising, revealing and hiding. Carl, with his expert knowledge of the French Revolution and his deep interest in European philosophers, is just the right person to be walking its many paths with, offering ways we might navigate them – tending and cultivating but not wholly harvesting. There is room here for our imaginations. We wonder. We marvel.

Walking with Rebecca French and Andrew Mottershead on 23 May 2011

May 29, 2011

 

Richmond Park (Day Time)

I am walking with Rebecca French, Andrew Mottershead and their seventh month in utero little French-Mottershead/Mottershead-French. I first met Rebecca and Andrew at a workshop-performance-lecture event they staged at the Collective Gallery in Edinburgh in August 2001. It was also my  introduction to the artists’ concept of micro-performances. During their public lecture I performed my own pre-rehearsed micro-performance (vigorously nodding my head – an exaggerated version of the encouraging audience member that I typically play).

Rebecca has plotted our walk and I love the serendipity that of all the walks possible, she has selected Richmond Park– but this will be a day time walk. Rebecca also intends for us to walk out of Richmond Park and follow the Thames alongside Kew Gardens.

It’s a bright, sunny day. At Kingston Gate (South West of the park), the beginning of our walk is marked with a delightful reading-aloud from Andrew of the invitation I sent them in December 2009. Rebecca has chosen this walk because she knows I like deer and Richmond Park is home to 650 of them. She was brought here by her mum a few times when she was wee and remembers seeing the deer then. Andrew has only ever driven through the park. Andrew sets us the task of deer hunting; I predict that Rebecca will spot our first deer, though Andrew claims to have Eagle Eyes. A few yards into the park and Rebecca remarkably, immediately, points out a group (not quite a herd) of fallow deer lounging under a copse of trees. As we walk closer, they seem not in the least bit bothered.

Andrew sets the compass and we head northwards, aiming to end up at Richmond Gate. We climb up a steep hill and encounter more fallow deer, most of them sheltering under oak trees. The ends of the trees’ branches have been munched to the same length, forming a perfectly straight, horizontal line – like a skirt – as if manicured by landscape gardeners. I catch a glint of bright green flitting into a tree – a parakeet. I am thrilled as I’ve never seen a parakeet in the wild before. It seems very exotic. We also spot two pale, skinny boys sunning themselves in the grass, exotic specimens too. The ground is exceptionally dry, the grass like straw. There has been no rain for weeks in London and very few wild flowers are visible.

Looking across the park, I get a sense of its vastness. At 1000 hectares, it’s the largest Royal Park in London. I am very glad to see it in daylight and am surprised that it actually feels more removed from the city because the megalith buildings that encircle it are not as visible as they are at night (when bedecked in bright lights). We encounter a few dog walkers, but there’s still a sense of empty space (though admittedly it’s a Monday). As we climb higher, I notice it is very windy – an observation that will take on more meaning later in the day.* Parakeets flash in and out of trees, tag teams.

In the Isabella Plantation – a maintained garden with ponds, irises, rhododendrons and other ornamental plants – we watch a female Mandarin duck corral her numerous chicks. In another pond, the male Mandarins display their more flashy modernist apparel – all colourful symmetrical angles. Leaving the Isabella Plantation we head in what we think is a westerly direction. Rebecca insists on carrying their rucksack, claiming it counterweights the bump that threatens to topple her forwards. The park is scored by endless dusty tracks walked onto its surface. We manage to stay off the car roads the entire time. I am awestruck by the confidence with which Andrew and Rebecca presume a bearing, certain that we need to head westerly; or north; or north westerly. There is little faffing about which path to take and decisions are made quickly. Perhaps for this reason I am paradoxically relieved to find that though we were aiming for Richmond Gate (North West), some three hours later we end up at East Sheen Gate (North East). (I am informed later that such bravado was prompted by the fact that as were in an urban park it didn’t actually matter if we lost our way.) A passer-by reassures us that Richmond Gate is  only a mere 20 or so minutes away. On this side of the park, the wind is even stronger and walking against it takes some effort. Eagle Eyed Andrew, temporarily distracted by a gate on his right, fails to see the springy tree branch thrown towards him by the wind’s force. Whack. Ouch! He’s left with a small hole gouged into his forehead, which bleeds a little.

In the open expanse to our right, we catch our first sight of Red Deer – much larger, with impressive antlers. As we head towards Richmond Gate I have a sense of ‘being here before’, and surmise that a small gate on our left is Cambrian Gate. It is strange to see this patch of land in daylight; it’s not really recognisable and I would have trouble retracing my steps from the walk of two nights earlier. Then, I walked only a small corner of the park. Today, we have weaved our way across many miles of it. Passing by a pond, we are watched by Mr. Heron. A sign – too late – pronounces that ‘Deer are Dangerous in May, June and July’. The dirt track leads us direct to the large entrance gates (a different route to the one taken with Zoe). I very much like the fact that these two walks, side by side, lead to the same point but from very different directions.

We may have been aiming for the Thames and Kew Gardens, but our feet and tummies have got the better of us and we decide to replace deer stalking with tea and cake hunting – the latter in fact proving to be far more elusive. Following Richmond Hill into town and feeling increasingly more desperate, Eagle Eyed Andrew finally earns his name by spotting ‘Le Coin de Paris’, a French patisserie. Here, I order not one cake but two, and a pot of Earl Grey tea. Though I don’t have the excuse of ‘eating for two’, this is my birthday treat after all. And what a treat this day has been.

 * I had planned on getting the 19.30 train from home from Euston. Walking in Richmond Park we were utterly oblivious to what was unfolding in the north of the country. Gale force winds cause the cancellation of all trains to Scotland. I end up in Crewe (a surprise visit for my dad!).

Walking with Zoe Shobbrook on 21 May 2011

May 25, 2011

Richmond Park (Night Time)

I am walking with my friend Zoe Shobbrook. Zoe was a couple of years below me at university in Glasgow but returned to Richmond a few years after graduating. Living close to Richmond Park, once a Royal Hunting ground, the park is very familiar territory. In spite of this, Zoe has never visited it at night time, so a night time walk appeals. We are joined for some of this walk by her partner, Mark, and her son, Finley.

We enter Richmond Park just after11pm, through Cambrian Gate. It’s amazing how dark it looks on the other side of the gate – raven-black; no street lights, no lights from living room windows, just a sort of deep void. A couple out walking a dog pass us, torch in hand. We take the opposite path, and then navigate our way across some hilly, slightly treacherous grass-covered humps. Looking up, I am astounded to see stars; I’d have thought the lights from the metropolis would have neutralised them. Quite a few of the ‘stars’ are moving fast, revealing themselves to be planes (Heathrow flight path). Others are satellites. But some are definitely stars. As our eyes acclimatise the dark becomes more a charcoal grey. Scatterings of white mackerel clouds float above us, beautiful fragile sky patterns. We have brought a wind-up lamp but there’s no need to use it. Though it’s not particularly cold I’m glad I’ve borrowed a scarf from Zoe. Zoe is fully prepared for temperate weather, wearing a shiny, gold puffa jacket and a trapper-style hat (donated by Finley, half way through his journey).

Soon, we find ourselves on a tarmac road. It’s one of the car roads through the park (connecting Richmond with Kingston and vice versa). The vehicle gates to these roads are locked at night time affording a sense of liberation. As if spontaneously responding to this unusual reversal of priorities, Finley promptly lies down in the middle of the 20 miles per hour sign painted onto the road’s surface. Mark follows suit. It’s a joyfully rebellious moment.

Being in Richmond Park at night feels like being on an island; the colourful city lights, blinking in the distance, form a peripheral circle. I understand why parks are considered the lungs of a city. In the distance, tall buildings illuminate a carnival of reds, blues, greens, whites, emanating electricity (the buzz of the city made literal). There’s a constant low-rumble surround sound which might be the planes or the traffic, or both. The belly of the city.

Leaving the road we walk along a dirt track. Finley persuades us all to lie down and look up at the sky, to see if we can sense the earth rotating by watching the stars move. We happen to find ourselves below the Plough. I stare hard, but all seems fixed in place. It’s very relaxing. Having lain down, Finley finds it difficult to get up again – it’s way past his bed time – and after walking on a bit further, Mark agrees to walk back with Finley. As Zoe and I wave goodbye to them, turn round and walk onwards, the complete and sudden change in atmosphere is quite remarkable. Disappointed and annoyed though I am to realise it, Zoe and I both admit that we suddenly feel less safe, more vulnerable, less confident. Even though I am not alone, I carry my gender self-consciously. I wonder what it must be like to be a man, bearing the weight of expectation and responsibility? I wonder if Mark feels that weight? I wonder what he felt when he turned back with Finley, leaving us?

We had been walking towards the Pen Ponds, where Zoe, Mark and Finley had swum recently. But Zoe changes tack to follow the path down the hill instead, heading towards the hollow tree. It’s a remarkable old oak with a hollowed trunk large enough for Zoe to stand in quite comfortably. I hear an owl hoot in the distance. Then we both jump out of our skins as the walkie talkie that Finley has left with me emits an unexpected ghostly crackle cackle. I can’t find a way to turn it off.

We walk on into a copse of old trees – probably oaks but it’s too dark to see their leaves properly. This could be the Jubilee or the Queen Elizabeth plantation. Zoe shares her love of trees with me – their calming presence, the sense of safety they bestow. Try as I might – and even though I am a big fan of trees – I don’t feel particularly becalmed as we make our way along the dark path that lies below them. I revert to my habit of what Armistead Maupin calls ‘horribilizing’ – imagining worst case scenarios. The fact that I have never been in Richmond Park before and am utterly unorientated to this landscape increases my sense of vulnerability. As we walk out of the plantation back onto a much more open plain I feel somewhat relieved (the horizon is open, we can see further into the distance, see what’s coming… Nothing is coming of course.)

Lights flashing in the distance reveal themselves to be orange headlamps tied to a wooden gate – presumably to alert traffic to the gate’s presence. But what traffic? As we pass by Pembroke Lodge we find out – there’s a do of some sort taking place. We can hear tinny music, and then the headlights of a car coming down the road. The gate at this end turns out to be open. A taxi asks us for directions to the Lodge’s entry. A bloke in a red t-shirt, smoking a cigarette, overtakes us. Then a woman in heels, carrying a torch. It feels like we’re walking out of the unsettling, bewitching strangeness of the dark park; soon enough we are indeed at Richmond Gate, at street lights, at illuminated windows of homes and hotels…  As soon as we leave the park I find myself wanting to do it all over again, but this time paying more attention to the external landscape rather than the internal one. Of course it’s easy to imagine myself braver when standing in the utterly familiar. We begin our walk down Richmond Hill, towards home, walking our way out of the unknown and into the everynight.

Walking with Caroline Beven, Margaret Stevenson and Wilf on 14 May 2011

May 15, 2011

 

Drumclog/Mugdock

I am walking with Caroline, Margaret and Wilf. This is my first dog walk, led by the graciously aging, still spritely Wilf. We park up at Drumclog Car Park, beside Mugdock Country Park, opposite the Reservoir. Though only about 10 miles from Glasgow, I have visited Mugdock only a few times, and never begun at this point. This walk is a familiar favourite for Wilf though, chosen for me by the promise and lure of abundant bluebells. We planned to do it last year, but missed the bluebell window. Caroline, Margaret and Wilf visited a little over a week ago, and the bluebells were not yet out. Let’s hope we’ve chosen the right day…

A few paces into the walk and I am reassured by the sight of one or two flowers in bloom, their scent already enticing us. As we walk onwards, fields of bluebells open up, iridescent, mesmerising. Wilf ambles ahead of us, seeming to enjoy the deep scents as much as we do. Though 11 years old, Wilf has only been with Caroline and Margaret for four. He chose them carefully as guardians. Margaret shares the story as we stroll over open grassland. She had been walking a neighbour’s dog in the Botanic Gardens when she spotted this sorry looking creature, skin and bones, with hardly any hair. He seemed totally alone, scared, nervous. She took the dog home first, then to the vet. A chip revealed an address, but when the vet visited it, she was told that the people she was looking for had not lived there for more than two years. No forwarding address. Caroline and Margaret registered the dog with the police and after a period of six weeks, when no-one had claimed him, he rightfully entered the home of Caroline and Margaret, not as a visitor, but as a permanent family member. Four years later, with a special diet matched by healthy portions of love, care and attention, Wilf’s coat is thick and glossy, his eyes inquisitive and intelligent, his silky soft ears ever alert. Wilf seems to be having the time of his life.

We cross a stream; on the other side, Margaret spots a small Orange Tipped butterfly. Then it’s a muddy, slurpy but short trudge through peaty bog, and up a steep oak wooded hill. The trees that have fallen remain untouched, rich deadwood providing a succulent home for other flora and insects. Quite a few upright trees carry cracked branches, seemingly placed carefully and symmetrically across their trunk, a horizontal plane against a vertical. It’s like natural tree architecture – or arbotecture. The swathes of deep blue continue, as far as the eye can see. Amidst them, the occasional pink stem, Ragged Robin, or a different shade of purple – the Bugle.

A couple of riders trot by. Wilf behaves impeccably, and is rewarded with a calorie-free dog treat – a thumb’s up signal from Caroline (dog sign language for ‘good boy’). We are now at the top of the hill, walking along a bridle pathway, in the more manicured section of Mugdock Park itself. We pass by Mugdock Castle, its solar panels somewhat incongruous but, when read beside the Scottish Saltire that flies alongside, perhaps positively or aspirationally signalling an eco-conscious country. The path leads us over stone plaques laid into the ground, with text inscribed: tended, nurtured, worked, drained. We enjoy the double signification of ‘drained’, imagining how draining the draining of this land must have been on those who did it. The branches of still bare trees create a canopy, throwing mottled shadows onto the sun drenched ground and Wilf’s black back.

A beautiful curved ‘S’ dry stone wall feeds us through single file, onto a constructed wooden board walk that seems to float above the marshy land. Some of those who have made (or repaired) this walk (Margaret reckons it is the Territorial Army) have left their mark on it, using U-Nails to spell out their names; a textured form of graffiti: Dan, Adam (2000). Soon, we turn off the main track and are back onto a lesser used dirt track. (Though, in fact, wherever we have walked today there has been hardly another soul. It is a sunny, spring day but we have encountered less than five people.) The path leads us down to the Allander River where, in spite of much coaxing, Wilf agrees only to go knee deep. (He’s not a great one for water.) The small white waters further down testify to the rain of the week before. As we rise up the bank again, I look behind and spot a perfect crossing made of two mud paths. Talk of tea and cake shops makes me wish I had packed a flask. As we head to the end of the walk, we encounter another dog – the first of the afternoon. It’s a large Collie and it seems more anxious even than Wilf. (The only breed of dog that Wilf really does not like is the Labrador– whether brown, black or golden Wilf’s hackles rise when he encounters one.) Wilf lets the Collie go by without much of a fuss and kindly obliges me at the end of the walk with a photo moment, the pair of us standing in a field of bluebells. The sun is still shining, Wilf’s tail is wagging and so is mine. Clearly, we chose the right day.

Walking with Jackie Wylie on 24 April 2011

April 25, 2011

Goatfell (Goat Fell)

I am walking with my friend, Jackie Wylie. Jackie and I share a penchant for some of the good (but not so healthy) things in life – wine and cocktails being two of them. Jackie’s proposal to take a strenuous hike up Goatfell takes me somewhat by surprise but I am nevertheless especially pleased at the prospect of this walk because when Rachel and I first viewed what would become our home, on a bright, clear November day in 2005, the Estate Agent looked out of the bay windows of the living room, pointed in a South Westerly direction to a very distant snow capped peak, and said ‘That’s Goatfell, on Arran’.

Though Arran (‘Scotland in miniature’) is relatively close to Glasgow I have only visited the island once before, and this is Jackie’s first trip. In moments of stress, Jackie has a well-worn escape-walk, on the Isle of Bute, which takes her through forest. But she’d like to add another option, so rather than share her known walk with me, today we will test out a new walk for her. Out of my living room window, Goatfell looks tiny. As we approach Arran, on the CalMac ferry, Goatfell – 867 feet (874 metres) – looks huge.

I turn up in my walking gear (fleece jumper, rain resistant trousers – with zips to let the air circulate, and a newly purchased walking pole). Underlining my practical approach to the task, I refer to myself as the Owl Woman (stocky? wise? sensible?). By contrast, Jackie is, as always, très chic – black leggings; fashionable t-shirt; fitted cardigan; holey black sweater; cool shades; make-up. But she is also wearing walking books (well-loved, a 21st birthday present from her mum) and a sensible (black) jacket.

Arriving on Arran, we take the open-top bus to the Brewery, where Jackie’s colleague Sinclair has instructed us to commence our walk. The bus itself is a joyful experience; small children screaming gleefully on this Easter Sunday as tree branches appear to ‘just miss’ slicing off their heads. The walk begins directly behind the Brewery (a sign says ‘3.5 miles’ – ‘Nothing’ says Jackie, but I’m thinking 3.5 miles uphill is quite a long way…), through a glade and then on to a forest track. The sun is shining on the spongy green moss forest floor. It feels good to be out of the city again. Signs handily point us in the right direction and soon we are out of the forest and onto the open moor land. But the path is well marked; well, not so much marked as built. The stone steps are like paving stones built for a giant (though I cannot resist suggesting that I install an ‘owlevator). We let people overtake us. We are not in any rush. We walk and we talk. About love, life, work, family, stuff. And we laugh. About love, life, work, family, stuff. And we contemplate. Love, life, work, family, stuff. I have known Jackie for a couple of years now, but today I learn much more about her. That’s one of the rewards of taking a long walk together.

Walking on, the landscape behind us opens up – the bays of Arran coming in to view. As we ramble upwards, a team of sporty young men sprint down, stopping not far ahead of us at a wooden bridge, where a couple choose to turn their backs on the path and ‘take a leak’, whilst others fill up bottles from the stream. I, in turn, choose this moment to go sprawling on my face, like some incompetent day tripper (no Owl Woman in sight). ‘I’m absolutely fine’, I insist. If I was already red from the effort of walking; now I was positively beetroot.

We soon see what lies ahead – an almost vertical, seemingly rock-strewn ascent. Goatfell, the highest mountain on the island, is formed from the granite remains of a volcano (some 60 million years ago). Some of the rocks make uncanny looking sharp teeth, almost perfect isosceles triangles. Others seem like the bricks of a giant’s house. Friends had forewarned me that the last section was a scramble. These rocks require some strenuous negotiation: heaving, pulling, deep breathing, heart pounding effort. People descending spur us on, the camaraderie of walkers brushing off us on: just five more minutes, nearly there, almost at the top… As we go up, the clouds come down. At each breather, the vista below is a little less visible, till eventually, nothing below us but mist, but above, the peak beckons…

We arrive – hot, breathless, but triumphant. The scene that greets us is surreal – small groups of jovial fellow hikers, huddled around picnics, on top of a mountain from where absolutely nothing can be seen. We might well be the inhabitants of a strange planet, disconnected from everything but this small circle of terra firma. And lest I have given the impression of an overly demanding walk, I should point out the young children happily picnicking up here – seven year old boys and girls – and a very small terrier dog (how on earth did it climb those big rocks?)

Though we were not the last to ascend the mountain, nor were we the last to leave its top, Jackie and I are nevertheless the last to reach the bottom. But who cares? Arriving at the Brewery just before it closes (phew!), I enjoy a well-deserved Arran beer, supping it as the rain gently falls and a red squirrel leaps over the branches of a nearby fir tree. I look across at Jackie, who is supping a well-earned Cider – the carefully applied make-up and styled hair is rather ‘undone’ – but the face that looks back is totally made up, glowing with achievement.

Walking with Adrian Howells on 29 January 2011

February 5, 2011

 

An Architectural Tour

I am walking with my friend Adrian Howells. Adrian makes autobiographical performances. I write about autobiographical performances. On Adrian’s walk the autobiographical cannot fail but to tickle our heels since it is an Architectural Tour of Glasgow. Published in the Observer in June 2007, Adrian has been meaning to do this walk for some time. Adrian is no stranger to Glasgow, having worked in the 1990s at the Citizens Theatre. Since then, he has returned many times and in 2006 decided to make Glasgow his home. It’s a city he has fallen in love with. And what’s not to love about it?

This walk will mostly – but not always – lead us down familiar streets. As we walk those streets, we will step into our earlier footfalls, reanimating younger selves. We will realise that we have walked in the same places – albeit not at the same times. But alongside this oh-so-familiar landscape that which has gone unnoticed will reveal itself. This walk, then, traverses two tracks simultaneously: we will enjoy the pleasure of reminiscing at the same time as our sensibilities are startled by what we have missed.

Our walk starts at Queen Street Station, George Square Exit, and leads us past St George’s Tron Parish Church then up Buchanan Street, past the Old Athenaeum – opened in 1893 and, much later, home to Scottish Youth Theatre (I was in SYT in 1986, but then it was held, curiously, in the Nautical College). The Athenaeum now lies empty. Outside Buchanan Underground a woman holds a sign that reads ‘Free Hugs’. An act right up our street, we willingly avail ourselves of her congenial gesture. The statue of Donald Dewar, much liked first First Minister of the devolved Scotland, looks down on us benignly as we walk by. On Renfrew Street, I take a good, hard look at The Pavilion. I’ve never noticed the signage that proclaims ‘The Scottish National Theatre of Variety’. Then we head to the new, shiny Herald Building and another unnoticed feature – Annan Fountain, a unicorn on a plinth, erected in 1915.

On to Cowcaddens Road, then down Hope Street, past the Theatre Royal (a poster on its wall advertises a forthcoming contemporary dance performance of Lord of the Flies and Adrian reveals that he has worked with many of the people listed on it). On the pavement, a perfect cube of ice melts slowly. Across the road, the rather ugly RSAMD; but not as ugly as the monstrous concrete block that houses the down-at-heel Savoy Centre. We diverge from the map so we can walk through it, the smell of fried food enveloping us immediately.

The walk leads us to the handsome town houses of Blytheswood Square, which tell a story of Glasgow’s wealthy past. Back down to George Square, a site of jostling personal memories, mostly demonstrations against some injustice or other (and there have been many). At the feet of the Scottish Bard, a shrine of wreaths marks his recently passed birthday; one courtesy of the Glasgow Haggis Club. Adrian and I are struck, as always, by the civic grandeur of the City Chambers.

On Ingram Street stands Lanarkshire House – now a restaurant lit garishly with outdoor chandeliers. On the upper part of the building we see a row of statues, each one marking a particular place – Kilmarnock, Gourock… Into Virginia Place, and then Virginia Street, past another old haunt – the gay bar, Delmonicas. Years ago, Rach and I wrote some silly sketches that we staged here: Eastbenders, Are You Being Serviced? On the doorway of the nearby Jacobean Corsetry shop, beautiful traces of old signage – so precisely evocative and nostalgic in their process of fading that they could be fake?

At the bottom of Virginia Street another unnoticed aspect of my familiar city – a plaque on the sleek black M&S wall: former site of the Black Bull Inn, Burns’s residence during a visit to Glasgow. At St. Enoch Square we marvel at what used to be the Travel Centre – a miniature Jacobean-style building, complete with turrets – now a Café Nero. (Why have I never marvelled at this before?) Then down to the Clyde and under the Glasgow Bridge – an amazingly acoustic, atmospheric space made of numerous arches and pillars (though I have appreciated this site before as  Rach produced a performance piece here). Then back up Jamaica Street, a Woolworths sign beside a shop that is now a Poundstretchers, and up Buchanan Street. We fail to locate the statue, ‘The Concept of Kentigern’. But we do locate a coffee shop, where a warm cup of Earl Grey tea is the order of the day. It’s next to Rogano’s – where my Dad, Rach and I celebrated my PhD ceremony and where Adrian would come with Citizens’ staff on opening nights. Past the Gallery of Modern Art, former home of a rich tobacco trader (Glasgow’s connection to the slave trade is marked in its street names – Jamaica Street, Virginia Street; second city of the Empire after all…) We are relieved to see that the Duke of Wellington is wearing his obligatory orange traffic cone atop his head, a city landmark in its own right.

Further on, Bennets, the gay club (though neither of us has been in years), and there’s Rab Ha’s, a container of a favourite New Year memory – good food, good friends, good cheer. Look – at the other end of the street, the beautifully proportioned Hutcheson’s Hospital (now home of National Trust), with its bright blue clock face.

Back to Argyle Street, and the familiar Tron Theatre – but has that demonic cherub with willy and wings always been there? (Later, I discover it is an art work by Kenny Miller, erected in 97/8). And just off Argyle Street, though not on our guided tour, I share the treasure of Tontine Lane – a backstreet of white glazed tiles, a broken neon light that points to a non-existent bar, and another non-illuminated sign, Empire, all its letters curiously reversed. This could be straight out of a film set – and in fact the Empire sign (Cinema? Nation?) is an art work by Douglas Gordon.

A walk up High Street – centuries ago the site of the University of Glasgow, now a skyline of cranes signalling the building of almost-disposable flats then past the oldest house in the city, Provand’s Lordship. We arrive at the understated Cathedral and just across the way see the Necropolis – a place neither Adrian nor I have ever walked but resolve to do so.

Rottenrow leads us through the student village of Strathclyde University, to the scant remains of the Rottenrow maternity hospital (marked by George Wylie’s big nappie pin sculpture). Descending the steep hill we find our way back to Ingram Street, then past what used to be the old Court House (where I once considered producing a play in its cells, long before ‘site specific’ or ‘site based’ became a term).

As we’ve walked Glasgow’s streets, daylight has turned into dusk, which has in turn sunk into dark and the feel of our city has changed too, daytime shoppers replaced by night time revellers. This walk has honed our skills. Next time I see Adrian, we continue to point out the unnoticed in our everyday landscape, enriching it in the process.