The Setting of the Sun

I took a walk on New Year’s Eve (also my birthday), and watched the final sunset of the decade from the roof terrace of the National Museum of Scotland, which is one of the finest (and free) spots to look out across the Old Town’s remarkable cityscape and geology (the one is closely entwined with the other). Last, tiny sliver of the sun about to vanish below the western horizon:

Last Sunset of the Decade

And just a few moments later, looking the same way but the sky now afire, the sun set early as it does in winter, but the heavens a glorious molten copper, a last hurrah of colour before the early winter night falls across the city:

Last Sunset of the Decade 02

This was a long zoom towards Calton Hill – you can see a huge crowd gathered around the old Royal Observatory (now home to the Collective Gallery) to watch that last sunset of 2019:

Waiting for the Sun to Set

Similarly when I turned the camera towards the east and Arthur’s Seat, the huge extinct volcano which dominates the royal park of Holyrood in the heart of Edinburgh, I saw a crowd of figures along the summit, watching that last sunset:

Watching the Last Sunset From on High

Also looking east from the roof terrace, the handsome dome of Old College caught in the dusk light – if you click on the original on Flickr and look at the large version you can just see the distinctive triangular shape of North Berwick Law much further down the coast at the bottom left of the dome in the background:

Sunset on the Dome


Noise of letter flap on the door opening and closing – ah that will be the postie with all those cards… Nope, pile of junk mail. Oh well, could have been worse, I suppose, could have been bills…

I find my birthday pretty redundant as a ‘special’ day – it’s a rubbish time of year to have it, it’s often forgotten or it is quick afterthought between the rush of Christmas nonsense and New Year celebrations, the latter also meaning even if you feel like doing something special it is pretty hard to do it – restaurants are booked up and also tend to be closing early for Hogmanay, similarly even a night out in the pub with couple of friends is overshadowed by everyone else crowding in there to celebrate New Year.

And that’s assuming anyone is free to be around for doing something, most often they are busy with festive season stuff already. I’ve not been out the door once to do anything on my birthday – did think about going up to the movies nearby, but going tomorrow so didn’t really fancy going up today as well. Considered nipping into town and having a wander around, maybe take some pics, look at the sales, maybe treat myself to something with some money I was given for birthday and Christmas, but rained until late afternoon and to be honest there’s nothing special I wanted so it seemed pointless. Kept thinking I should go off and do something, but everyone else I know in town is busy with family, travelling, getting ready for tonight etc so no-one to meet up with to do anything even slightly special as a treat for the day. If I wasn’t going round to chum’s this evening for Hogmanay I doubt I would have gone out the door or spoken to another human being in person all day.

As I said, it’s a rubbish time to have a birthday, just thinking about it doesn’t make me want to celebrate, it just depresses me. Besides which I don’t really see why I would want to celebrate it, similarly no idea why I’d particularly want to celebrate New Year. Celebrating it infers you think there is something good to look forward to. These days I often feel that I am just waiting for the next bad thing to go wrong, for the next accident, bad illness or worse. Career, finance and romance front all look equally bleak as they have previously and I don’t see why 2014 would be a shining beacon of hope for things being better. Bugger birthdays and bugger the New Year celebrations and frankly bugger life; fed up with it all and don’t see much likelihood of anything changing for better (certainly hasn’t in recent years), and far from happy celebrations days like this just leave me feeling more isolated and more depressed about the grey, oncoming, unfriendly future.

Christ but I could do with snuggling up with my purring kitties again…

2011 becomes 2012

Hogmanay 2011 01

Heading out of the warmth of the flat to watch the fireworks erupt over Edinburgh Castle at midnight as December 31st 2011 (my birthday, as it happens) clicks over to become January 1st, 2012, watching from an old, humpackd bridge on the Union Canal near the flat with a decent view to the evening’s pyrotechnics. Naturally we came prepared with some sparkly stuff for the chimes at midnight:

Hogmanay 2011 02

And then the sky erupted into colours and great booms and thumps echoed across the night sky over our ancient capital, while we laughed at the nearby crowd of English students trying to sing Auld Lang’s Syne and mispronouncing Edinburgh dreadfully.

Hogmanay 2011 03

Hogmanay 2011 06

Happy New Year, folks.


Its my birthday today, my age clicking over in time with the ending of the year. I’ve never cared much for my birthday, always feels sort of squeezed in there as everyone darts around getting ready for New Year and this year I can be bothered even less with it. Dad warned me that my card was one mum picked up ages ago – she had the habit of seeing something she thought perfect for someone for a birthday, Christmas etc and she’d get it then and put it aside, often months and months in advance (or even years – one of my cousins doesn’t know it but she had put aside a certain something for her to be given on an upcoming special occasion, its just sitting there ready). So I opened the card today and there it is signed love mum and dad. And I felt as if someone hit me in the chest with a sledgehammer and that was me out of it for quite a while. I’d much rather have it than not, of course, but it was still bloody hard and I was struggling already (birthday is bad enough but New Year is often depressing at the best of times). The last birthday card I will ever have signed by both my wonderful parents. Goodbye 2008 – you started so well, with the promise of a trip to Paris and I was very happy. Then you became the worst year of my life and I don’t even remember half of it going past because even when I think I am functioning okay I don’t think I am and am still running on autopilot a lot of the time. Go away 2008, you’re not welcome here anymore, although somehow I doubt 2009 will make me feel any better. I no longer want the future.


And so we click over to the final day of the year and also my fortieth birthday. Soundtrack for today: Clare Grogan (fworrr) and Altered Images with “Happy Birthday”, Alice Cooper’s “I’m Eighteen” (“got a baby’s brain and an old man’s heart… I’m a man and I’m a boy…”), The Cure’s “In-Between Days” (“yesterdayI got so old, I felt like I could die, yesterday I got so old it made me want to cry”), Queen’s “Who Wants To Live Forever?” and then nothing to do with age or birthdays I’m sticking on my namesake the jazz musician Joe Gordon.

Here lies Joe Gordon; no, he’s not dead, just full of champagne… Born at the height of the Swinging Sixties and the Space Age; unsurprisingly he has a soft spot for the Beatles and still at 40 harbours a great desire to be an astronaut when he grows up. 1967. Britain wasn’t even on the decimal system back then – I don’t remember the old money as it changed when I was very small, but I still have my first bank savings book, opened by relatives when I was born, and the entries are all in pounds, shilling and pence which I don’t actually understand. According to a card my mum and dad gave me in 1967 a pack of crisps would cost 1 shilling and 3 pence (about 6p modern style), a gallon of petrol 5 shillings and 5 pence, around 27 p modern (now the old money and the gallon are gone) and a pint of Guinness would have set you back 2 shillings and sixpence, or around 12 and 1/2 pence modern (and the half pence is long gone now too, of course).

Sandie Shaw won the Eurovision Song Contest in ’67 with “Puppet on a String”, the Beatles’ “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” was released (still one of my favourite albums of all time and also one of the best cover designs ever), “In the Heat of the Night” won an Oscar (“they call me Mister Tibbs”), Elvis married Priscilla, Francis Chichester completed the first solo voyage around the globe and the QEII was launched. Louis Leakey announced the finding of ancient, pre-human fossils in Kenya, still one of the great sources of knowledge painfully peiced together on the very earliest days of humans and the species which lead to us back in the dawn days (there’s nothing like reading about a 600, 000 year old proto-human fossil to make you feel younger on your 40th). Jimi Hendrix releases “Are You Experienced?” Yes, Jimi, I am and thanks for giving me my theme tune, “hey, Joe, where you goin’ with that blog in yore hand?”

The Russians postured, telling their allied (actually controlled) states not to have full diplomatic links to what we used to call West Germany, while Israel went into the Six Days War and the US was embroiled in Vietnam. Of course aggression in the Middle East, Russian leaders posturing against the West and Americans getting themselves into the quagmire of an unwinnable war in a country that has nothing to do with them for dodgy political ideology are all mistakes we have learned from in 2007 and would never allow to happen today… Oh, hold on… Martin Luther King denounces the war (and of course he gets villified an killed) and Muhammad Ali refuses the military draft. They villify him too, but today who remembers the politicians who postured about, calling him names? But they remember Ali. Che Guevara meets his end but in doing so becomes immortal.

Harlan Ellison’s Dangerous Visions was published, collecting some brilliant writing by Philip K Dick, Samuel Delany, Fritz Leiber and others. Ah, the days when Harlan was pioneering some great writing; sadly in 2007 he seems to be mentioned more regularly in connections with legal cases… The first colour broadcasts began in the UK (on some BBC2 programmes); I’m old enough to remember TV’s used to have little badges on them proudly proclaiming ‘colour’ (usually each letter in different colours in case you were especially thick and didn’t quite get it) and so did station idents. Today they all say ‘HD’ instead. Plus ca change.

The Summer Of Love year was also an apex in humanity’s drive to the stars – both NASA and the Soviet Union (another name gone since I was younger) were sending probes to Venus and the magnificently daring Apollo programme was literally going ‘where no man has gone before’. Jocelyn Bell and her colleagues using a new-fangled radio telescope discover a regular extra-terrestrial signal from the depths of space. Regular signal? Artificial? Alien life? Sadly it wasn’t ET calling but it was the discovery of the bizarre stellar phenomenon of the Pulsar. Her colleagues later shared a Nobel Prize (the discovery was written up in 68) but not Bell, a controversial move. She is now a Dame. The drive to the stars seems to have faded away and I’m looking at another year where I am unlikely to have a holiday on the Moon, dammit. In other scientific advances ’67 also saw Barnard perform the first heart transplant and the gloriously beautiful Concorde took her bow. Same age as me, but she’s gone from the skies; luckily I am still flying, albeit rather more slowly and with a much smaller nose. Moves to have me preserved for the nation in a museum have so far come to nothing.

1967, seems worlds away now, doesn’t it? And yet it was full of events still influencing 2007. Let’s hope 2008 gets more of the better influences from the past and not the negative. Sadly my birthday didn’t begin with me waking up sandwhiched between Monica Belluci and Winona Ryder, waiting for Nigella Lawson, clad only in a maid’s apron, to bring us breakfast in bed. Then again I did wake up knowing my family are healthy and with me, I’ve got friends and a decent roof over my head while there’s still millions who can’t say that. That injustice infuriated me as a kid and a younger man and it really makes me incandescent that in 2007 we still spend more killing people than we do trying to help those who need it. I dearly wish some of our so-called leaders would read more history and learn from it. 2008 will probably bring more mistakes repeated from the past, but let’s hope – let’s hope it gets better. Happy New Year to you all and Peace Out, y’all.

One hour to go

One single hour to go before I am no longer a thirtysomething. End of the year and end of my thirties, hello being a funky fortysomething. Thank goodness for my creamy Celtic complexion and youthful exuberance – with those most folks think I look only 39 and a bit… Nah, that’s not true, it seems to surprise a lot of folks who didn’t think I was that age yet, although of course they may all just be being polite, but frankly I’m taking it the positive way. Bottle of champers chilling nicely for the birthday breakfast as we speak, any excuse… Anyway, champagne for breakfast is something everyone should indulge themselves in from time to time and if you can’t do it on your birthday then when the hell can you? First time I ever had champagne at breakfast was way back in the mid 1980s in a hotel in Aachen in Germany and its kind of become a birthday ritual these days and why not? Got to live a little, especially at my age 🙂

Dad continues to be on the mend – he seems a bit more tired than before, but that’s pretty understandable between the lethargy having to spend several days in a hospital bed can impart and the shock to the old system. He’s pretty upbeat and the final scans were clear (although he will go back in sometime in the next month or two for some routine further checks to make sure) but I think it has rattled him a little more than he lets on. We had a good Christmas together, the pair of us took every excuse to sit and watch the Wallace and Gromit repeats on the BBC while my mum tutted at us about enjoy cartoons at ‘our ages’, although by the time they were halfway through we heard barely suppressed sniggers coming from her direction, then out and out laughs from the woman who claims animation is for kids and not funny… Mind you that’s not bad going, it took us from the early video days (Betamax no less) to just a few years back to persuade her that Blazing Saddles was a comedy masterpiece (she finally gets it).

Ton of food was guzzled of course, all homemade – can’t beat yer mum’s cooking! My veggie main course this year was a delicious herb-stuffed pinenut roast in red wine sauce (again homemade). Mum’s meringue nests, cream, fresh fruit and some ice cream from the bloody excellent Equi’s (one of the best ice cream emporiums in Scotland) for dessert (although my cousins opted for the traditional Christmas pudding instead), all washed down with a bottle of Saint Joe. My mum couldn’t resist buying this bottle when she saw the name on it, although I don’t actually answer to that name to anyone except her and a couple of family members as I have hated my full name for as long as I can remember and prefer just Joe; anyone else using the full name will find themselves being ignored…

(Saint Joseph, the patron saint of mixing good chocolate and red wine)

As ever we all collapsed after dinner feeling as if we had swallowed a (delicious) cannonball, full, full, full… I always look forward to enjoying mum’s cooking at Christmas, but getting dad home on Christmas Eve made it particularly special. I could see him through a window as I was walking up to the house and boy was that a nice sight. We’re still trying to get him to take it easy, but mum and dad have been out a bit in the last few days and in fact they took me out for an early birthday treat lunch this weekend, which was good, off to the Bridge Inn at Ratho, which is a spot I first found years back when I used to cycle a lot and Brendan and I cycled out the canal towpath several miles out of Edinburgh, saw the village, the old humpbacked bridge and the canalside pub and thought we had earned a pint, found out they did food and that was it (incidentally Brendan’s 40th was a couple of weeks back – the party had a loose theme of dead rock stars and one guy came as Kurt Cobain; when he turned round he had fake blood and brains on the back of his head).

The menu was a bit disappointing – the veggie options were extremely poor which was annoying as we’ve eaten there many times and they usually had a number of options (I once had gorgeous hot peppers stuffed with fresh cream cheese from one of the local farms, shame they don’t do it anymore) so it was irritating to see a new menu that was so limited on the veggie front – most places tend to add more vegetarian options rather than reducing them. Still, I picked out a couple of simple items and enjoyed them with a decent beer from the Atlas brewery and it meant having more time to spend with the folks which is never bad.