A Trip to the V&A

I finally got to visit the new V&A museum and gallery which opened on the riverfront of Dundee recently, which included an enjoyable train trip up from Edinburgh, which takes you across both the massive Forth Rail Bridge and the Tay Rail Bridge to cross both huge firths. The Tay Bridge, while not enjoying the iconic status of its southern cousin on the Forth, has an eerie side to it – as you cross, if you look out the south side of the structure you can clearly see the line of the remnants of piers, which once held up the first Tay Rail Bridge.

Vid - Crossing the Tay

I snapped these two out of the train window, so they’re not the sharpest

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That bridge was an engineering marvel of the age, the designer was knighted for his works, Queen Victoria even travelled over it returning on the Royal Train from a stay at Balmoral. However on December 28th, 1878, a huge, gale-force winter storm struck the Tay, and it transpired that it hadn’t really been designed to take that force hitting side-on to bridge and train. A passenger train was lost as the bridge collapsed, taking sections of bridge and the train with it, seventy five people plunging into the cold waters below, all lost. The replacement bridge runs right alongside the original’s route, but was, as you can imagine, built to be far sturdier, and remains in service to this day. The remnants of the first bridge’s piers now remain like tombstones, a ghostly reminder to all who cross the bridge of the one that was there before.

The V&A Dundee is a striking building, right on the riverfront, next to the famous polar exploration vessel Discovery and its own museum, and right across from the train station, so pretty perfect for visitors to the city.

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It’s an impressive space inside, two main wings, with a lot of open space, windows often giving sudden glimpses of the bridge, the silvery Tay (the most powerful river in the British Isles) and the tall ship, Discovery.

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Vid - The V&A Dundee

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There are permanent exhibits, many global, but also a good selection that reflects the culture, arts, crafts, industrial, scientific and engineering history of Scotland, with some there drawn from its host city Dundee’s own history, as well as travelling exhibitions (the current one is on tartans).

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(above: the Oak Room designed by the great Charles Rennie Mackintosh for Miss Cranston’s tea rooms. Below: the Kinloss Psalter, a beautiful illuminated work though to date from between 1500 – 1530 CE)

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Gateway to Infinity

Enter the Gateway to Infinity! Okay, actually this is me standing directly under the Tay Road Bridge in Dundee, zooming the lens through the large piers supporting this very long structure, which I thought gave a very cool effect, especially in black and white:

Gateway To Infinity

The Night Tram

Walking home from my book group recently, darkness had just fallen. I didn’t have my main tripod with me, but did have my wee Gorilla mini-tripod, with its bendy legs, and thought some scenes of people waiting for the evening trams in Saint Andrew Square would look good in monochrome, so I sat the mini-tripod on a handy post to raise it up, set the timer and crossed my fingers…

Night Tram 01

As I was zooming in more on the people waiting on the platform, I heard the rumbling of an approaching tram, so I left the camera on a long exposure, so you get that nice contrast between the stationary platform and people standing still, and the blurred motion of the tram passing them, which I quite liked:

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A second tram arrived while I was still shooting, so I got a twin-tram snap for the last pic. Not the greatest, but not bad for semi-improvised night shots. As ever, for the larger versions, click on the pics to see them on the Woolamaloo Flickr stream.

Night Tram 04

I switched back to shooting in colour for this pic, just a couple of moments walk from the previous ones, looking towards the buildings on the south side of Saint Andrew Square, but also managed to get one of the cherry blossom trees into frame, the branches loaded with sakura, hanging over the railings of the now-closed gardens:

Nocturnal Scene With Added Blossoms

First snows of the winter

We had our first snows of the winter a few days ago, fairly light as I left work, then became progressively heavier as I was walking, enough that the front of my coat was almost white by the time I got there. Snapped a couple of quick photos and videos on the walk.

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The days following have seen little more snow, but bitterly cold conditions as the weather was blowing over from Scandinavia. Forecast is for more brutally cold weather and possibly more snow this weekend. Frankly I prefer the snow over the bloody iced-up pavements to walk on!

Vid - Holy Corner In The Snow

Above video and photos, Holy Corner, Bruntsfield, in the snow. Below: the Union Canal at Polwarth.

Vid - Snow Over The Union Canal

Night Life

Now that is is dark before 4pm, I have more opportunities to take some shots of the city’s nocturnal face, something I always like exploring.

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Haymarket tram stop at night (above), and looking towards the main junction of Haymarket (below).

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Red And Green

Bank of Scotland building on the Mound, lit up in alternating red and green lights.

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Festive Market At Night 02

The annual festive market has returned – not my favourite place (vastly over-priced, too busy, and causes a huge amount of damage to Princes Street Gardens, which is often not fully repaired and open to citizens again until months after the market goes), but it is good for taking pics.

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New Town Nights 02

This town house, especially the basment flat, was well-lit up, snapped a couple of quick pics with the phone on the walk home, amazed they came out.

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City of Night

Being December, it is now dark here well before four in the afternoon; while most people bemoan the very few, short hours of daylight we get in our wee northern kingdom at this time of year, I rather like it and tend to use it to get some nocturnal shots of my city.

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Project Coffee After Dark 01

Cafe Grande At Night 01

Cafe Grande At Night 02

Project Coffee and Cafe Grande after dark, in the Bruntsfield area of the city. There’s something about the dark, winter night outside and bright, warm lights and people inside the cafes and diners and bars that just cries out for a good black and white photo. Slightly rough as these were all taken freehand on the way home from work, so no tripod with me.

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Fountain Bar at night, Fountainbridge

Blue Note

Blue note: corner shop lit up brightly against the winter night, Fountainbridge.

Ghost By The Steps

“Ghost” strolling near the benches by the Union Canal. I love the way long exposures capture the surroundings clearly, but a moving person or object becomes blurred and translucent, like a ghostly, spectral figure, which sometimes quite suits the photo.

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Festive Barge 02Homes With A View

Golf Tavern At Night

Tenements overlooking Bruntsfield Links, one of the ancestral homes of the game of golf (there's still a putting green there right in front of the apartments). Always coveted one of these flats, but way out of my price range. The old Golf Tavern can be seen on the far right of the upper pic, and a closer view of it in the second pic.

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Theatre Crowd

Busy junction at Tollcross at night, and the King's Theatre, with a crowd waiting to go in for a show.

Cinematic Nocturne

Cinematic Nocture: people waiting at the bus stop under the marquee over the entrance to the lovely, old Cameo Cinema. I miss marquees on most moden cinemas, to me they were always part of the magic, all lit up, the regularly changing signs telling you what films were screening, I like that the Cameo still has it.

Castle Of Lights 01

Edinburgh Castle during a light show, seen above and behind the old Victorian tenement buildings around Bruntsfield Links and the Meadows, because you just get views like this in Edinburgh as you casually stroll across a park path after work...

Saint Cyprian’s in Autumn

After days of heavy rains and dark, grey skies, for a few hours the sun started to peek out from behind the clouds, illuminating the autumn colours on the trees. Dad and I paused by Saint Cyprian’s in Lenzie – framed by the trees and their changing colours, with the autumnal light on the old stone of the 1873 church it was a rather beautiful scene.

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The spire on Saint Cyprian’s boasts some handsome gargoyles at the top (if you are wondering about the difference, while gargoyles and grotesques are both sculpted forms of monsters, odd beasts or humans and have symbolic meaning, the grotesques are non-functional, purely decorative, while gargoyles contain water spouts for drainage, usually from the mouth).

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A day by the Forth

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Since the new lockdown restrictions mean I am not allowed into the family home if I go through to see dad (but we can meet outside in a busy cafe or bar?? Doesn’t make a lot of sense to me…) we met partway and had a day out in South Queensferry, then I had a wee wander around Linlithgow on the way back to the train home. Naturally I was taking photos while I was there ambling through the town and along the mighty Firth of Forth, and of course, the bridges (especially the Rail Bridge, which I think is a wonderful landmark as well as a gem of Victorian engineering)

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The Forth is, as you can see, not just a majestic piece of scenery on the Scottish coast, or home to much history, it’s still a working river, with gas and oil tankers in particular passing up and down it, or loading and unloading at these offshore terminals, helped by tug boats

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Reviews: Victory Point

Victory Point,
Owen D. Pomery,
Avery Hill

During the seemingly endless, long, slow days of the main part of Lockdown, Avery Hill released a trailer for Owen D Pomery’s upcoming Victory Point, and sent me a link to view it, along with a few preview pages. It’s fair to say I was smitten right away, and it brightened a Lockdown day; I’ve been waiting since then to get a proper read at the full graphic novel. I was not disappointed. I’ve long had what I refer to as my “bookseller’s Spidey-sense” (caused by a paper cut from a mildly radioactive book) that gives me a vibe on certain new books, before I have even read them, and I know I am going to like them a lot. I don’t know how that vibe works, but it’s never steered me to a bad read yet, and I got it in spades looking a the previews and trailer for Victory Point.

Owen’s educational and professional background is in architecture and illustration, and that shows very much in Victory Point. A small coastal village, it is unusual – not to mention extremely pretty – for having been designed entirely by one architect as part of a socio-architectural experiment in the inter-war years, to create a small town that would not only be a home to families but be a base for artistic and scientific colonies (perhaps inspired by some of the artist colonies that for many years drew creators to places like Saint Ives). In true British tradition, this vision was never fully realised, with only part of the town constructed, and it soon turned into a regular, quiet little seaside town, save for the unusual architecture that visually unites the area.

And what a style it is, all beautiful, clean lines of 30s Modernist architecture, elegant without being fussy, the buildings and streets carefully situated into the descending slope of the coastal landscape as it reaches down from cliffs above to the beaches and sea below, all drawn in Owen’s handsome, clear-line style. We first see Victory Point on a bright, summer’s day, as Ellen, a bookseller in the (unnamed) big city is returning by train; this is her home-town, and she is coming back to visit her dad.

The fact that it is a summer’s day makes it ideal for luxuriating in the views of these gorgeous Modernist buildings that festoon the slopes of the hills, the elegant curves, the whitewashed walls catching the light beautifully. I’ve always loved the architecture of this period, and there is something particularly nice about this style when on the coast. I still have childhood holiday memories of Morecambe in the summer, and the beautiful Midland Hotel (fortunately now refurbished and restored), with its Modernist and Art Deco grace right by the sea, catching the light and making me think of the great ocean liners from the golden age of travel – long before I was old enough to understand what those art and architectural styles were, I knew they were beautiful.

The pace of the story is leisurely, and this allows Owen to indulge himself and the reader in the luxury of just wallowing in a pool of beautiful illustrations, as the returning Ellen walks through her old home-town to her parent’s house, and we are treated to so many simply wonderful, beautiful panels, with many of the panels being large, or even entire pages, the better to drink in the art. The pictures also do a magnificent job of conveying something of that glorious light quality of a clear, summer day by the coast, especially on that handsome, whitewashed architecture.

Not that this is a book just about a beautiful architectural experiment turned delightful anomaly – students come out from the city to behold “what might have been” if the experiment had been completed and expanded to others, but they see only the myth of the genius of the designer, not the fact that it is a real place, with real people living real lives (I must confess, despite vastly different architecture – though just as striking – I experience the same often in Edinburgh where I live, where it feels many visitors see it almost as a set and forget it is a living, working place and home). No, there is a story here, about belonging, about home and leaving, about growing up, about being part of your family but also needing to be yourself, and that bittersweet mixture of hope and joy and regret and sadness that entails.

Victory Point perfectly captures that slightly surreal feeling of coming home when it isn’t really your home anymore, something most of us will have experienced. Going back to the home town, to the parental mansion, still home and yet, not really home, because now we are grown up and moved away somewhere else that is now home. But this is still somehow home too, but we feel a weird mix of being a visitor as well as belonging now. Likewise Ellen’s reunion with her dad expresses those feelings many of us will have had on going back home to a beloved parent, of realising they are getting older, that while you are all now adults and living your own lives, they are still forever interlinked, and that no matter how old you are, that feeling that in your parent’s heart of hearts, you are still their little child and they worry about you, want to help you, see you be happy, are planning, even now, to try and make sure you will be okay when they are no longer there (and how our minds rebel against the thought when they bring such plans up).

The artwork for the characters is reminiscent of the Herge style – no bad thing, of course – with the little dots for eyes and simple yet effectively expressive faces that still convey so much emotion despite their economy (a single panel of her dad hugging her when she arrives home is just beautifully done and radiates emotion), and characters, architecture and landscape are all integrated so well in Victory Point, not just from the visual, aesthetic point of view, but also in terms of the story and the competing emotions underlying it.

It felt to me that this elegant, beautiful, quirky failed socio-architectural experiment was in many ways a metaphor not only for Ellen’s life, but for any of our lives, how something can seem, from the outside, to look perfect, enviable even, be it another’s home or their life, compared to our own, but of course beneath those facades are the same complex problems everyone has. The use of matching architecture to make an almost uniform town, except real towns don’t exist that way, they’re a mixture of styles and periods, a melange, much like the lives of those who live in them. Or Ellen visiting the secretive little cove where she first learned to swim as a child, floating naked in the clear water, the perspective from above, showing the geology of the coastal hills meeting the sea, Ellen, wondering where her life will go next, floating, suspended between the sea and sky and land.

Yes, this is a visually stunning, beautiful piece of comics work, filled with elegant artwork and vistas designed to show those structures off, but it is also a quiet, gentle tale of life and growing up and our competing goals and emotional attachments to people and places that all go to make us who we are and form what we do, all the hopes and desire, all the fears and regrets. This is a book I will come back to again and again to just drink in.

This review was originally penned for Down The Tubes.

The Clyde Coast

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Dad and I went off down the Clyde coast over the holiday weekend, with glorious spring sunshine sparkling on the Firth of Clyde as we drove alongside. We visited the beautiful old station at Wemyss Bay, often counted as one of the ten most beautiful railway station in the British Isles. The old steel and glass canopy let the light flood into the station:

Wemyss Bay Station 01

The canopies above the platforms have a gentle curve to them, which coupled with perspective and the natural light coming in makes them a popular subject for many Scottish photographers:

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The station was built to connect a railway spur to the Glasgow line to the coast and the steam ships plying the waters of the Firth of Forth, and the station still has a working dock for ferries to the islands, with this handsome wooden and glass sloping (and again slightly curved) walkway to take pedestrians from the station down to the berthed ferries:

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And talking of which, here’s one of the ferries, the Bute, coming into dock:

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And on the way back up the coast we passed the beautiful Cloch Point Lighthouse, built in 1797 by Thomas Smith and his son in law Robert Stevenson, part of that great generational family of engineers, the Lighthouse Stevensons, whose line would also one day produce one of Scotland’s greatest writers, Robert Louis Stevenson, and whose remarkable feats of engineering still mark our coastline today and still protect mariners.

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Reaching to heaven

Horrified at the destruction of centuries of history, culture and art in the fire of Notre Dame. The last time I was there it was early spring, the sun had come out and shone on the centuries-old limestone. Walking around one side of the vast cathedral I looked up from the shadows it cast over the streets of the Ile de la Cite, to see the spire reaching up out of the shadows into a clear, blue heaven above:

Notre Dame from Ile de la Cite side street

In front of the iconic twin bell towers the first blossoms of spring were appearing on the trees in front of the cathedral. I was in Paris in the spring light, walking by the Seine and happy and drinking it all in. It’s ironic that mastering fire was part of what set early humans on the course to develop the level of civilisation that could create wonders like those cathedrals that took generations to build, and yet fire has devoured so much of our history and buildings, from the library of Alexandria to the Glasgow School of Art to Notre Dame last night.

Notre Dame and spring tree

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One of the great rose windows, this one at the front, between the bell towers, welcoming the curious visitor and the faithful alike, spring sun on old limestone:

Notre Dame detail

Tollcross by night

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Walking home the other evening, taking some night shots as I did, this batch were around Tollcross, like the lovely old Cameo Cinema (seen above), with people waiting at the bus stop in front of it, standing under the marquee, or this cafe and neighbouring shop, still busy with people (had to take quick shot between the traffic flowing by this busy area):

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And here’s the distinctive red sandstone facade of the King’s Theatre at night, the green building on the lower right of the theatre is Bennett’s Bar, one of my favourite watering holes for many years (good real ales, has cool old tables decorated with OS maps, and it’s dog-friendly):

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