Walking: Falkirk to Linlithgow

With the world on climate strike, one academic year barely over and the next about to begin, I decided to enjoy the rare Scottish sunshine and walk the next section of my good days journey to Edinburgh along the Forth & Clyde and the Union canals. Ben, my faithful doggy companion, had already proved his worth in the 2.5 hours it had taken us to get to Falkirk High, by train, bus and walking (which should have been a half-hour train ride) as he’d simply flirted with everyone in sight and taken their minds off broken-down trains. We really didn’t mind and Falkirk Arts Festival was looking bonny in the sun.

Falkirk Arts Festival bigger

We’d done a side walk from Falkirk High to the Kelpies in February and back but the last section, from Auchinstarry in October last year, had also ended at this canalside train station so that’s where we started – at the famously long and eerie tunnel with its fairy lights and red-green traffic lights at either end.

The tunnel wasn’t just eerie it was also wet! I put Ben on the lead and walked warily over the cobblestones further into a fairyland under the hill. Not a place for the claustrophobic – although you can always see the light at both ends – and we had to flatten ourselves against the wall to let a couple of cyclists past. But, if you manage to miss the narrow streams of falling water, when your eyes adjust, it’s rather lovely.

Outside again and the warmth of the air and blue skies were a pleasant surprise. After all, this was Scotland, in September! (If there’s an R in the month, it tends to rain almost constantly; if there isn’t, it just rains a lot.) The Union canal, narrower than the Forth and Clyde, was popular with cheery narrowboaters, who (from their accents and amiable incomprehension of mine) hailed from Across the Pond and Down Under.

It is also full of beautiful old bridges (the newer ones are more functional than aesthetic) whose builders weren’t always happy with their financial lot, as a sign explained.

The milestones intrigued me and it was only further on that I worked out what the numbers referred to: we were 2 miles to the west of the beginning of the Union canal at the Falkirk Wheel; 29.5 miles from its Edinburgh end. There was also a sensible notice for cyclists (though the rude ones would be going too fast to read it):

Old stone is quite a feature of these canals and the next example was a weir with an overflow burn below, keeping the level of each reach (canal section from lock to lock) – and providing Ben with his favourite tipple: rainwater.

Further along, I spotted white deadnettle among the ferns, which look a little like snapdragons but the leaves sting! At the next bridge was a spray of rosehips.

And then, unexpectedly, a field of pinto ponies! And was that smoke from Grangemouth? Yes, then that must be the Forth, flowing majestically down from Stirling, under the Kincardine bridge towards Queensferry and the North Sea. And the lovely Kingdom of Fife, the setting for my latest Bruno Benedetti Mystery – which I must get finished! And another lovely bridge.

Some Ben action shots now: (if you flick through them quick you can see him jumping around happily):

Purple clover hiding in the grass, a stark star of cow parsley and the delicate violet-coloured flowers and large , typical geranium leaves of wood crane’s-bill.

On to Polmont where there was a nice long quay with mooring rings and a shut-up narrowboat snugly tied up, with another one chugging along.

The town is famous for its prison for young offenders but, before that, the ambiguous legacy of Alfred Nobel. Not exactly peaceful!

In prison or out, life goes on, and so did the path. With Ben irrigating the vegetation and another narrowboat approaching. I spied a great big clump of yellow vetch and took a close-up.

A welcome rest! I sat on the milestone while Ben had his lunch then, in solidarity with our Greta, went on strike. Right in the middle of the path. I persuaded him to sprawl on the grass just before a cyclist happened by.

I had been dawdling. I knew it. I’d stopped so often to get my phone out of my backpack to take photos that I finally gave up the pretence of being technology-free. And I’d just ambled along chatting to everyone, who chatted back. It was that kind of day. But, when I saw this sign, I realised that I really should get a move on. Later on I worked out that, at this point, it had taken us 2.5 hours to walk a total of 2 miles! It really didn’t help that Ben occasionally walked back the way we’d come.

But there were quiet meadows to contemplate, lovely old stone bridges and sheep lying down in shady pasture.

I didn’t notice this sinister thing lurking in the murky waters when I took what I thought was a poetic shot of riverbed reeds. Bicycle inner tube? Freshwater eel? A very lanky pike? Then I spotted this keystane and thought of Burns’ immortal line about midnight’s black arch.

On the other bank, a herd of bulls and one on his own. I turned veggie at the age of eight and vegan a few years ago. Since seeing sheep carcases hanging on the walls of a slaughterhouse, I’ve avoided farmed animals. I watched The Animals’ Film with my brother decades ago (it turned him veggie, again) but I don’t watch all the shocking footage that’s so widespread these days. I know what goes on. When I lived on a small Hebridean isle, the only beings I didn’t connect with were the cattle and sheep. I knew their fate. I didn’t want to get to know them.

bullsBut recently I’ve been following some animal sanctuaries on Instagram. The pigs that have names and get butternut squash and bellyrubs are the same of sentient  species, more intelligent than dogs, who are imprisoned in cages as piglet-making machines, who scream in terror before being clubbed or shot or knifed or skewered or gassed to death. Male chicks, considered as non-profitable processes in the egg industry, are suffocated or mechanically shredded – human hands pick them out on purpose and set them on that conveyor belt. Cows cry at what awaits them, as the deception of the kindly farmer finally hits home.


So I was glad that these ones were out in the field in the sun. And I was sad that human greed, for milk and meat (ignoring the effect of both on the body and the planet) meant their early and terrifying death.

But then there was the sun reflected on the water. Which must have meant something. And the path went on – and here’s a bicycle! Okay it’s got no brakes and the back tire needs pumped up, at least, but it’s free and yours for the taking!

The picnic place beside the canal basin looked nice and, before another lovely bridge, a sign that we were nearing…ah but you’ll have to wait and see!

And then a ford and, past a wee narrowboat shimmering in the sun, and an ivy-covered tree in a lovely wood, there was…

Well you’ll have to wait because, at this point, Ben bolted ahead – straight for what appeared to be a very small sausage dog on a lead which was promptly hoisted to shoulder height by his owner (clearly used to this) and turned out to be a ferret! I apologised and the unsuccessful (and unrepentant) murderer went back on his lead.

The Avon Aqueduct! (And we’ve come a whole 3 miles since that last sign – which is 5.5 altogether. In three hours. Oh well.)

It was beautiful. I’m sure Hugh Baird was proud of his creation. I really got the sense of crossing over towards the east coast. The canal continued and Ben seemed happy to, and there were lots of pretty flowers along the way.

This may be water mint and that’s bullrush – but the tower is definitely not the Wallace Monument. I think the sun was getting to me when I came to that conclusion and forgot my Central Scottish geography.

A wee burn below the canal, a milestone to show how brave we were (seven miles – fancy!) and some splendid huts that may or may not have been for boaters.

I fell in love with Linlithgow. What’s over that bridge? Look at those cute canalside cottages! What a lovely spire! What is it? (St Michael’s Church, with the Palace behind it – or St Michael’s Kirk, wi thi Palace ahint it, in the vernacular.)

Journey’s end was the sight of these lovely old canalboats, including a workboat tipped a bit astern as the ballast would be heavier forrard, and a teashop.

Well I know what’s my first stop for the next stage: Linlithgow to Ratho. But that, as they say, is another story. My last photo: a lovely veranda and Linlithgow Loch behind.

lovely veranda

[All photos (descriptions more accurate than titles) are copyright the author and may be used with a link to this post.]



ID, Memory and Me

It was a painful time and a shameful time, and many who lived through it would rather just forget. If you are younger than 30, or even 40, you may never have heard of it. Many will speak about it only in general terms, talking about friends, or family, never themselves. The wounds of that time still smart. Some families, some marriages, some friendships, never recovered. People killed themselves in shame, spiralled into addiction, moved away and broke all ties, or just shut down emotionally and traded life for existence.

That’s not what was supposed to happen. The therapists, and all those who wrote books and recorded cassette tapes (remember them?) and spoke at conferences, they all found fortune and a few found fame. They promised a panacea, an all-healing explanation for everything in your life that you didn’t like. Or that you did like.

The Recovered Memory Movement, as it came to be known, implied, forcefully, that:

  • If you were fat
  • If you were thin
  • If you were promiscuous
  • If you were frigid
  • If you drank
  • If you did drugs
  • If you abstained
  • If you had nightmares
  • If you had daydreams
  • If you were musical
  • If you were artistic
  • If you were organised
  • If you were chaotic
  • If you were human
  • If you were inhuman

You had, most likely, been sexually or emotionally abused as a child. Probably both.

The RMM depended on a specific, post-structural reading of the work of Sigmund Freud. Which – given that his work is the basis for post-structuralism (reading against the grain, turning things on their head) – is quite specific. And psychologically unfounded. Therapists, belatedly – after about a decade of accepting fees to encourage mostly young people, mostly female, to rehash memories they’d read in books and heard on tapes, mostly – admitted that they were now more ‘cautious’ or even ‘wary’ of diagnosing someone as an Adult Survivor of Childhood Sexual or Emotional Abuse; but they didn’t follow up that admission with an offer to repay any fees. People were generally too ashamed, or broken, to sue them.

Need I say that some children are indeed abused and there is no doubt of the trauma that causes? I hope not. Would that it were not so, but it is. That is not my topic here.

Rather, I want to highlight the effect on the collective psyche, the, mostly, White, western, middle-class, post-industrial, liberal psyche of widespread shame, rage and moral panic from the late 80’s to the late 90’s.

This was the time when disillusion with monetarism, and even with capitalism, was general on the Left. Reagan and Thatcher had fallen, Bill Clinton followed George Bush the elder and John Major was hardly charismatic. Ecology and demilitarisation (especially after the first Gulf War protests) could have had a chance. We could have taken action then to avoid the ecological crisis we’re in now.

But, apart from demonstrations, the 90’s was the beginning of political apathy for young people especially. The numbers of non-voters rose massively: researchers at Royal Holloway, University of London, looking at voter data from 31 European countries from 1918-2016, “found that from around 1990, non-voters made up the single biggest block”. Other reports confirm this as a global phenomenon among (comparatively) well-off Millennials.

The RMM spread a gospel of interiority and selfishness. Being a ‘caretaker’ (caring about someone else) was one of the worst things you could do. A better use of energy was to devote it all to ‘me time’. This was also the period of the rise of co-dependency, an addictive add-on with a definition that became so vague it eventually just meant ‘wrong’. Anyone who was anyone who was politically (which meant personally) sensitive during that time was either realising that they been abused or was supporting a survivor. Usually both. Which was caring and caretaking and co-dependent and therefore wrong.

The holy book was The Courage to Heal and the sacred mantra was: “I’m not crazy and I’m not making this up!”

Many of us who were in our twenties in the 90’s are now in our 50’s, many of us have raised children, especially girls, to believe in ‘me time’ and not listening to friends or family who don’t believe in ‘my truth’ and that ‘what I feel is my truth’.

Does this sound familiar? Did you think the trans phenomenon came out of nowhere? Now, of course, kids don’t depend on books (what are they?) or cassette tapes (museum much?) for social contagion. They don’t depend on their parents or elders for support and advice either. One generation has taught the following to be wary of older people, especially men, but also of women who are complicit in their machinations – enablers.

So we have an entire generation across the comparatively rich world of independent, vulnerable, inexperienced young people, mostly girls, brought up to focus on themselves, to see themselves as victims, to embrace an ideology that explains why they feel socially awkward or depressed or angry or embarrassed about their bodies.

It’s a club. Non-members are not invited. Girls are going to take over the world. Even if they have to stop being girls to do it. And boys are slipping into the gaps they leave behind. Anyone who doubts must be barred or cast out. They’re not crazy and they’re not making it up. That’s their truth.

That’s their pain. That’s what they’ll have to live with, and regret, for the rest of their lives.

Meanwhile, our planet home is dying. Because our selfishness and self-obsession is killing it. Think of all the people who could make a difference – if we could just stop tearing each other apart over identity politics.

The personal may be political but, right now, the politics that counts is planetary. It’s time to forget me time and devote ourselves to Earth time. While we still can.

I’m not crazy and I’m not making this up.


Thanks to Video Girl for releasing ‘Unicorn Beach Swimming Ring’ into the Public Domain.

The Silence of the Men

My most popular tweets usually get a handful of likes or retweets; the one I posted on the evening of Friday 13th this month got almost a thousand and my followers are nearing that figure (from 770). Women from New Zealand/ Aotearoa to New York expressed their appreciation. So why was what I said spread so far and wide?

“If anyone at any university in Glasgow is being bullied – for refusing to push reactionary gender stereotypes, refusing to silence women’s concerns over physical safety, or simply for insisting that Equality Impact Assessment is carried out *as provided for* in law – contact me.”

A few years ago, okay maybe about ten, the reaction from women might have been along the lines of “cheers mate but why would women need male support to combat gender stereotypes or ensure safety or enforce the law on a university campus in Scotland?” Some might, quite rightly, have been a bit more vocal about male presumption, implied aspersion of female agency or ignorance of robust anti-bullying regulations at UK institutions of higher education.

Not one woman said anything of the kind. I rather wish they had. Because that would mean that the reported imposition of gender ideology, the intimidation of academic women, the mobbing of any woman who even intimates that there may be a debate about gender self-identity and its implications for female safety, isn’t actually happening.

But it is. Massively. On campus.

As for me, the only not-entirely positive reaction I’ve had this weekend is a couple of supportive but confused guys (who apologised) and a couple of good caveats from women. One guy said that 99% of men were supportive of what I said.

So my question is: where are all these men?

I think men aren’t speaking up on this issue for a variety of reasons:

  • They’re confused by the language of the debate
  • They think it’s a ‘gay [LGBT+] thing’
  • They think it’s a women’s issue
  • They’re rightwing
  • They’re leftwing
  • They’re apolitical
  • They don’t see what the problem is
  • It’s not on their radar
  • They don’t want to look ignorant
  • They don’t want to look closed-minded

Of course, these 10 reasons may not be the biggies. Maybe men just can’t be bothered to speak up. Or are afraid. But let’s address them anyway:

  • ‘Transgender’ = ‘transsexual’ and/ or ‘transvestite’, basically; ‘transactivist’ means someone pushing for gender self-ID (that means unquestioned male access to female safe space – such as women’s shelters, showers, bedrooms, prison cells); ‘gender-critical’/ ‘gender abolitionist’ means refusing to accept a return to 1950’s White Western stereotypes of male and female – because the whole concept of social ‘gender’, as distinct to biological ‘sex’, is built on them which is why wee boys who wear pink and wee girls who play football are being manipulated into believing that they really are the opposite gender.
  • It was. Now it’s at a Primary school near you and your son or daughter could be next from mutilating surgery that will leave them sterile and scarred for life – along with perhaps an addiction to plastic surgery and a whole range of other medical disorders. And, no, it won’t make them any less depressed or suicidal.
  • See above.
  • Some people who resist transgenderism also resist sex-selective abortion and/or ableist abortion (and some any abortion not life-saving for the mother); some resist the sexualisation of children; some any definition of children’s sexuality; some also support religious freedom – none of this means they can’t support women’s safe space.
  • Conversely, some who are gender-critical are actively pro-choice and espouse a variety of opinions regarding sex-work, fetish freedom and the evils of religious ideology – none of this means they can’t support women’s safe space.
  • The personal is the political.
  • See 2)
  • It should be!
  • Understandable, but, as it does concern them, they should at least learn the basics.
  • Again, understandable. Men supporting female safe space can be condemned as rightwing bigots or leftwing traitors.

In summary: women need our help, guys. They shouldn’t, but they do. They are being physically threatened, trolled online, stalked along streets, intimidated at their places of work – all for trying to protect the most vulnerable women as well as impressionable children. No-one is ‘anti-trans’. If adult men or women want to cross-dress or undergo surgery to alter their primary or secondary sexual characteristics, as long as that’s not the only option for them (as it is in repressive regimes for lesbians and gay men) then fine. Whether that should be on the NHS is another question.

What shouldn’t be a question is the safety and support of all vulnerable people. How we do that, fairly and safely, is very much up for debate. Men, please speak up for women whose voices are being silenced.


Image: front cover of Kindle version of I Like Being ME!