Traveller's tales

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Glasgow today - for me

At one time, I thought of the city of Glasgow, only as the birthplace of my grandmother, Ruby Leslie.

I thought of Glasgow as the home of the'lions of Lisbon' who I roared on, watching with my grandfather, Ruby's husband, Evans, by his hearty fireside as he puffed on his pipe and cheered every wonderful goal.

I thought of Glasgow as the home of iron and steel, of shipbuilding and of the Polmadie Locomotive Sheds I longed to visit as a lad.

I thought of Glasgow as the city in which people spoke with a strong accent - Glaswegian, in the way one of my lecturers spoke in Faraday Lecture Theatre at Lancaster University - his name was David Denver, you might know him or remember his rich tones as he spoke of the oddities of voting behaviour in the 70s in General Elections.

Today, I think of Glasgow as the home of my friends, of happy times in Dennistoun, of the Chinese students there, of a grand day on Glasgow Green, at the World Pipe Band Championships, and above all, of the warm, friendly people of Glasgow.

Glasgow - second city of the Empire

Having once worked in 'the clanging workshops of Lancashire', where we made pieces of machinery, which when assembled, we were unable to lift, I mourn the passing of the source of Glasgow's former fame as 'the second city of the Empire'.

It is probably difficult for a person who has never set foot in an engineering workshop to appreciate what I am talking about. Machine shops in my day were full of mirth, vulgarity and rollockings, and they were full of men and women who had clearly defined roles, who knew what they had to do that day, knew how it had to be done, and did it with some pride.

Employment locates a person in society - you might say it is the basis for class distinction, I prefer to think of it merely as an illustration of that.

The appeal of mechanical engineering to me, back in the days when I cycled to work through rain and snow, when I cursed my lot in life sometimes, was that I was creating something.

The city of Glasgow, with its great shipyards at Clydebank and elsewhere along the banks of the River Clyde, prided itself on making, on creating, and it is that that is lost to all of us who once earned our living cutting metal.

Robert Leslie Fielding

The euphemisms of the victorious

The pages of our history books are full of titles, names, and labels. We are fond of saying that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, and that illustrates the point that it is the victorious that label the events of history, though we should not condone violence in any form.

It is only when the victim gets the chance to label that the true nature of the event comes through in the name. The Final Solution becomes nearer to the truth when it is relabeled the holocaust, Alexander the Great was better known as Alexander the Accursed by those he vanquished in his wake.

More recently, we have had the obnoxious phrase, ‘ethnic cleansing’ given to what in effect was mass murder in the Balkans.

And nearer home, we have labels like ‘the Battle of Culloden’, when what really happened was slaughter, and the Highland Clearances, not given any other name, but as infamous in history as anything that Stalin perpetrated in Soviet Russia, though on a much smaller scale.

Scots today still regard what happened after Culloden, as well as the ‘battle’ itself, as little more than a war crime.

In these days of talks of ‘crusades’ and the like, of freeing a people, taking the moral high ground as our own, we should remember that it hasn’t always been this way, and that not much further back than living memory, the English were guilty of much to be regretted in the course of history.
Said Roderick MacLeod,
" I saw the townships set on fire. Grummore with 16 houses and Archmilidh with four. All the houses were burnt with the exception of one. A barn. Few if any of the families knew where to turn their heads or from whom to get their next meal. It was sad, the driving away of these people. The terrible rememberance of the "Burnings" of Strathnaver will live as long as a root of the people remains in this country."

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Spiritualists in Uppermill

The Spiritualist Church near what used to be known as River's Lea in Uppermill, is a tranquil place, full of moment.

As we sat and relaxed, meditated on things past, and on people who are sadly no longer with us, I felt something of the weight of ages, of the lives of those who brought us here - not just immediate parents, though them above all, but the weight of the ages of the generations of people who we owe so much to.

I'm not sure that I believe the dead can talk, at least not in conventional ways that we can hear using our senses, but I do believe we are in their debt for bequeathing this world we live in to us.

As John Buchan, the novelist and former Governor General of Canada as Lord Tweedsmuir, the only way we can pay that debt is to put the coming generations in debt to us.

Robert Leslie Fielding

The Cuillin Hills, Skye

Not for the inexperienced, or the faint-hearted, the magnificent Cuillin Hills of Skye are remote, with access from Glen Brittle.

Coming over from Sligachan way, the Cuillin Hills (mountains are often called hills in Scotland) appear round a bend in the road and then dominate utterly from then on.

Unlike some 'hills' on Skye, the Cuillins are bereft of plant life below their craggy summits. The practice grounds for Everest climbers, the Cuillins are among Scotland's most difficult mountains to climb and traverse, particularly in winter.

Even down on the sea shore in Glen Brittle, with the high hills as a backdrop, they dominate and change the feel of the beach and foreshore. It isn't that they trivialise the shore, but that they set it in a certain context, placing it in safety and accessibility.
Robert Leslie Fielding

Monday, August 28, 2006

Clints and grykes: 'karst' scenery in Yorkshire

Those two interrelated terms, 'porous' and 'permeable' come together in Craven in the Yorkshire Dales, particularly around Malham, and again around the foot of Penyghent, near the village of Horton in Ribblesdale, and in the Peak District.

Rainwater, ever so slightly acidic, and getting more so, runs off the high fells and hits limestone, through which it passes. On its way, it carves out swallow holes, like those between Malham Cove and Malham Tarn, and immense caverns - some with their rooves still intact, like those around Clapham, and some with their rooves collapsed, like the spectacular Gordale Scar, just outside the village of Malham, and the 'pot holes', Hull and Hunt Pot below Penyghent.

The clints and grykes at the top of Malham Cove and elsewhere in this area, show the ability of water, and frost, to exploit the cracks in the carboniferous limestone, again, a testament to the power of water.

Runnig water is always destructive when it is eroding. Fortunately for Craven, the action of water has been responsible for the carving out of some of the most impressive rock scenery in the British Isles. The term 'karst scenery' though was coined in the former Yugoslavia, where that type of scenery abounds.
Robert Leslie Fielding

Sunday, August 27, 2006

The forces of Nature: Lynmouth, 1952

The power of water in a river obeys logarithmic laws, not arithmetical ones; if the volume doubles, the power of the torrent increases by a factor of eight – the ‘cube law’. Ask anyone who was in Boscastle, Cornwall, on a dreadful day in 2003, or in the picturesque village of Lynmouth, North Devon, in 1952.

Ask anybody from a desert nation like the United Arab Emirates, or one with large deserts – rock or sand within its borders, like the Sultanate of Oman; ask them about the power of the flood in a wadi. Many has been the time when an unsuspecting ex Pat has all but lost his beloved 4 by 4 in the deluge that surrounds him and almost swarms over his Land Cruiser or his Range Rover. People have lost their lives in such flooded watercourses - wadis. Water on the move is hugely powerful.

Fortunately for most countries, soil and vegetation inhibits what is termed ‘run-off’, so that a heavy downpour of rain does not translate itself into an immediate rise in the water level of a river. Vegetation and soil, and sometimes permeable rock such as limestone, delays this rise, only allowing water to rise in a river bed once that water has percolated through layers of obstacles, be they organic or otherwise.

Typically in arid areas with little or no plant cover or soil of any kind, rivers react virtually at once to heavy rainfall. The resulting flooding of dried water courses – wadis – is immediate, powerful and potentially devastating to anything or anybody crossing that water course.

Several lives were lost in Oman’s aptly named “Snake Gorge’, known locally as Wadi Bani Awf, near the town of Rustaq. Heavy rainfall upstream produced a flash flood that was only detected when it was too late.

In Lynmouth, only a short distance downriver from Lynton, the effects of a sudden increase in the volume of water, both falling from the sky and filling the river, was devastating. Boulders the size of houses were dislodged and wreaked havoc on dwellings further down. The power of water, combined with the weight of rock forced downstream was sufficient to cause widespread destruction of buildings.
Robert Leslie Fielding

Saturday, August 26, 2006

The Dumb Steeple and its connection with the Luddites

Not everybody saw the coming industrial age as progress. Prior to the introduction of machinery to do the work, men and women wove and span in more traditional ways. The factory system, beginning in Cromford, Derbyshire, and quickly spreading elsewhere, was responsible for the loss of the means of making a living for many.

Incensed at what they saw, probably' as sharp practice and dishonesty, men so treated took matters into their own hands and began to go into factories and workshops to smash the hateful behemoths of the Industrial Revolution.

Owners quickly invoked the law and made the practice illegal, with those found guilty either hanged, jailed or transported.

Links with Scotland

The English have many links with Scotland, some that we should be proud of, and some that we should regret.

I have links through my grandmother, Ruby Leslie, who was born and grew up in the district of Maryhill in Glasgow before moving south at the age of six.

My great grandfather was a lay preacher by the name of Robert Leslie, after whom I was named. The first Robert Leslie travelled around his part of Lancashire spreading the word - preaching the fellowship of man, later called socialism. He was something of a poet, and I am proud to be his great grandson.

The Clan Leslie, of which I am but a limb, has the motto, 'Grip Fast' - something else I am proud of.

My grandfather on my mother's side, William Edgar Parkin, joined the Canadian Black Watch Regiment whilst in Canada just at the outbreak of the First World War, and transferred to the Scottish regiment, the Black Watch, and went to fight and survive the Battle of the Somme. He had played football for Oldham Athletic and Newton Heath, the forerunner to Manchester United.

Having spent some time in the beautiful city of Glasgow recently, those links have been renewed somewhat, and my pride in those links has also been renewed.

Now we have links of our own, in Livingstone Tower, and in Ingleby Drive in the district of Dennistoun in Glasgow. All these links are forged into chains that can never be broken.
Robert Leslie Fielding

Friday, August 25, 2006

Some of our friends in Glasgow

Here are a few shots of our good friends, Craig and Anna in Glasgow.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Eilean a Cheo - Skye - Isle of Mists

Skye isn't merely beautiful, it's awesome, as my pal Ron Turnbull says. Skye is truly amazing, from the magnificent Cuillins viewed from Glen Brittle, to the bays and harbours along the coast from the bridge, to Portree (Port an Righ - King's Port), with the scattered farmsteads and homesteads around the village of Broadford, tiny against the magnificent backdrop of the mountains.

All too soon, we had to leave the Isle of Mists - we were luckily enough to be there when the sky was clear blue and the tops of all the highest peaks could be clearly seen from below.

We were glad to have had the chance to see this beautiful island, and to meet some of its people. We will return.
Robert L. Fielding

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Cheerio tae Glasgow

Parting is such sweet sorrow, they say, and it is. My wife and I have loved Glasgow - loved the people of this huge city, loved the squares and crowded streets, the vacant looking banks of the Clyde, the tall ship and Kelvin and Burrell and everything they bequeathed to the city, the history of heavy engineering, shipbuilding, forging and founding,

We loved the musicians on Glasgow Green last week, blowing, and squeezing their way through rousing tunes with strange sounding titles - bands from Pakistan, the Sultanate of Oman, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, the USA, from Ireland and England - we enjoyed all of them.

I personally loved seeing, for the very first time, the place where my grandmother, Ruby Leslie, was born and brought up before heading south to a life looking after her six children.

And I felt something too - perhaps an affinity with Glasgow because of my family connections - the Clan Leslie, its motto; 'Grip fast!'

We even enjoyed the changing Scottish skies - after the never changing skies of the Emirates, the grey skies looked nothing like as ominous as I used to remember them.

Last but not least, we enjoyed the company of Anna and Craig in Ingleby Drive in the district of Dennistoun - our home for five weeks or so this summer.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Our last week in Glasgow

Monday, August 14, 2006

Sunday in Edinburgh

Edinburgh is a delightful place, winter, spring, rain or shine, in August, at the hight of the festival, it is chaotic, congested and crowded, still splendid, but rather too busy for me.

Not so for my friends from China, Oman, Thailand and Saudi Arabia - they loved it. They loved the sights and sounds of this northern capital city, they loved the bridges and the sounds of invisible locomotives coming out of Waverley Station, heading south through Newcastle, York and Peterborough to London's Kings Cross Station.

They loved the blackness of the Scott Memorial on Princes Street, and they loved my explanation of why it was so black.

They loved the street performers and their antics, aloft on stilts or unicycles, pretending - successfully - to look like marble statues of Mary, Queen of Scots, and they loved the noise and the hullabaloo of the Edinburgh Festival.

I would have loved to sit through a performance of Malher's Das Lied von der Erde, or Bruckner's Fifth, or indeed the Military Tattoo on a darkening Esplanade - those performances are sold out for this year, I would have preferred Mozart and his pals, but there will be a next time, thankfully.

My friends from the Middle and Far East have the opportunity to come again and again to this great city. I will have to wait. A coin thrown in the Trevi Fountain means you will return to Rome - the view across Waverley Station and beyond to Calton Hill means I will return to this 'Athens of the North' in the not too distant future.
Robert L. Fielding

Friday, August 11, 2006

Movers and shakers- reporters and makers

Commemorative plaques: our chequered history in names on walls

My good friend, and former colleague, Cameron Smart, recently informed me that he lived near a house with a blue plaque on it - commemorating James Naysmith, the inventor of the steam hammer. Cameron was surprised to see a picture of one of these hammers on a website.

Plaques on walls can sometimes signify worlds very different from the one most of us inhabit. The noisy world of the steam hammer is a world away from our noisy world, although mechanical hammers do still have their uses.

I once played a part in their manufacture, in the clanging workshops of Openshaw Bridge in East Manchester, down Ashton Old Road, now a world away from my present place of work.

The hammers made at B & S Massey Ltd were not driven by steam, but by compressed air and electricity, but they looked a lot like the one pictured above, and had a similar function, had and still have.

A plaque on a wall takes some to a strange world few of us inhabit, and it can sometimes take some of us back to a world we often felt more comfortable in.

Robert L. Fielding

An insular perspective: the view from an island

On a small island in the approaches to the Firth of Clyde, the sun sets on another day. The last boat prepares to leave for the mainland, and the shutters are put up until the next morning.

Life on Great Cumbrae Island, fifteen minute’s sail from Largs, is inevitably slower than it is nearer to the roar of motorways, traffic speeding north to Glasgow and beyond.

There is traffic, and more cars come with every arrival of the ro-ro ferry, but more leave a few minutes after the embarking of newly arrived vehicles – ten in – twelve off – a net loss of two cars. The pattern repeats and repeats during the daytime, making this tiny island the ideal place to hire a bike and explore.

Coming from a bigger island – the one facing the concrete ramp down to the water, I tried to imagine what islanders must feel when the last boat leaves for the mainland, taking the last day trippers and shutting them off from the world, for even just a short while.

The British mainland is surrounded by water, but the feeling of isolation from mainland Europe is lost because of size and indifference to our nearest neighbours across the North Sea and the Channel. There is an indifference, an apathy, and a feeling of superiority that the British have always felt towards those across the water.

The attitudes engendered by two world wars and the differences in culture, language, and this insularity of ours has seldom been better illustrated than by the headline in one British daily newspaper on the day that cross-Channel ferries were cancelled due to stormy weather. The headline read, ‘Europe cut off!’

On other, smaller islands than my own, there is probably more of the island identity that reacts to being apart from the nearest mainland. The island of Cyprus springs readily to mind, with its still divided communities, and its potentially hostile mainland neighbours – a perspective probably innate in both of the island’s people: Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, with each one’s affiliation to a national identity – ‘enosis’ for Greeks, ‘taksim’ for Turks. Politics exaggerates a sense of isolation – perhaps.

Back on Great Cumbrae, the small town of Millport, a bus ride from the ferry landing point, locks its doors, turns on its lights and settles down to its delicious isolated existence - until the first ferry lands the following morning.

It is doubtful that the islanders on this green island feel any animosity towards their mainland neighbours, but they probably feel different when it boils down to who they say they are and where they say they belong - for that is the essence of islandhood; that little is actually different to life a mile over the water, but the people deserted by that last sailing every night, feel different, feel special, feel deliciously isolated, but not alienated.

Robert L. Fielding

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