20 minutes later I’m off the train and breathing in the clear air of Kirkcaldy. Years ago the place stank of Linoleum, the weird thing was that the whole of Britain seemed to know about it; at Leeds City Station in 1980, I was having my ticket checked by an elderly rail employee; he looked at the ticket, punched it and as he gave it back said, Eee Kirk Kaldie. Ikun smelLeenolleeum frum thaa!
The production of Linoleum in the town was the doing of a Mr Nairn and although he and his factories are now well gone his benefactor gave a rather special collection of paintings to the Museum and Art Gallery that’s just a minute walk from the station.
The ground floor Museum has an eclectic collection of Fife pottery and memorabilia including John Thompson’s Scotland Jersey. John Thomson by the way was born in Kirkcaldy and grew up in Cardenden. He was the Glasgow Celtic and Scotland Goal keeper in the late 1920s and died tragically following an accidental collision with another player during a match in 1931. The woollen Scotland Jersey now in a display case at the museum looks like his mother might have knitted it.
The Paintings which were gifted to the town are upstairs and include work from The Glasgow School and the Scottish Colourists, namely, Peploe, Cadell, Fergusson, Hunter, McTaggert and Hornel. I have a soft spot for these pictures; as a teenager they were the first real paintings I had ever encountered. On recent visits, I have found the clutter of stuff building up around the gallery space a bit depressing. The only recent acquisitions seem to be 3 things by the Kirkcaldy born painting phenomenon, Jack Vetriano. He is the scourge of any one claiming to be a painter in Scotland, for whenever you are in new company, whether formal or relaxed, within a few minutes of them finding out you are a painter, you find yourself spitting with rage and announcing to them that you do not consider Jack Vetriano to even be a painter! While your gentle inquisitors sit quietly smiling, silently accusing you of being merely jealous of his fame and fortune.
Leaving his soft- scrubby-porn daubs behind I head down the staircase and out towards the high street of the Lang Toun.
Kirkcaldy has another famous son; the boundary signs announce – Welcome to Kirkcaldy, The Birthplace of Adam Smith. My knowledge of Adam Smith is shamefully pitiful and somewhere along the line his name became synonymous with that of Margaret Thatcher. Considering the two missed each other by almost 200 years, I have slowly been able to extract him from Maggie’s bed, (perhaps another theme for Jack Vetriano?) But since working on this blog I feel I now must at least try and read The theory of moral sentiments, if not his more widely known book, The wealth of nations. It would be too pat to now link the more famous book, which in 1776 advocated a free market economy as more productive and more beneficial to society, to the current state of Kirkcaldy High Street, but one can’t help but see something highly ironic in it all.
Kirkcaldy High Street is very long. It runs parallel and one road up from the esplanade which faces south onto the Firth of Forth. I’m not too sure about Adams Smith’s time but in the 1970s I knew The High Street as a bustling town centre with busy shops, restaurants, cafes and a cinema. Today, it is just one of many high streets that has suffered from the general decline in heavy industry and a further onslaught from the out of town shopping centres. But then, right there, not all that far from where the cinema once stood in which I saw Towering Inferno, Herbie rides again and Jaws. Just sitting in between Greggs the Baker and a closed down discount store, there’s a small darkened plaque on the wall which reads. ……ON THIS SITE STOOD THE HOME OF HIS MOTHER IN WHICH HE LIVED FROM 1767 – 1776 AND COMPLETED “THE WEALTH OF NATIONS”
I ran into Adam Smith again that day, on The Royal Mile when I returned to Edinburgh; he stands just a little way down from where his friend, David Hume is sitting. Unfortunately their enlightened spirit doesn’t seem to have touched the fat fingered sculptor (I presume he made the pair) who has entombed them as statutory statuary. (Poor David Hume looks like an oxidised Jabba the Hut).
In part one I promised you two public toilet stories, here’s the second. On my last day in Scotland we took another trip over to Fife only this time by car. We stopped off at Wemyss, the birth place of Jimmy Shand and the last resting place of my father, then followed the coast up to Leven where we stopped for a toilet break. As we approached a damp looking concrete bunker between the golf links and the beach a woman suddenly sprang out carrying a roll of orange cloakroom tickets and a money bag. It’s 30p to use the toilet. I was dutifully finding some change when I said in passing that it used to be free to go to the toilet in Scotland. Aye it’s all changed now, she replied.
And changes are afoot or certainly back at the two Bridges. The Forth road suspension bridge built in 1964, which we had crossed twice this day has problems. The massive network of steel cables strung over the upright stanchions and support the road are corroding. A friend told me about this several years ago after he had watched a TV program which had recorded the pinging noises coming from the fraying cables. On hearing this I immediately thought about the Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse (America 1940) and the otherworldly film footage made of it. Apparently, aeroelastic flutter had turned the road into a billowing streamer. The first time I saw these incredible images I couldn’t believe it was a steel bridge that was oscillating and bending in such an extreme way. I also remember getting emotionally involved with the drama of a dog trapped in the abandoned car on the bridge. After an hour or so of these structural gymnastics the road finally cracked then shattered and fell into the river below.
Looking beyond the disaster movie aspect of the Forth Road Bridge, certain practical questions come to the fore; how do you get 20, 30 or even 60,000 vehicles (predicted use) over the Firth of Forth every day and as we are told, the bridge will be lucky to last until 2020, where does the money come from to build a new one? While pondering this, something obvious struck me which I understand has been articulated by the Green Party and environmentalists some time ago. Why not bring into the equation a drastic reduction in car use? As good citizens of the planet, could this present crisis not be a perfect opportunity for Scotland and her newly reinstated Parliament to show the way. To be enlightened.
Back on the Royal Mile is the Scottish Parliament. It sits in and on a more forward looking plinth than the statues mentioned earlier. A few years ago I took a tour of the building designed by architect Enric Miralles. I was impressed by the layout of the debating chamber, which unlike the Palace of Westminster where the Government and Opposition face each other, here everyone sits facing forward; more like how an orchestra would be arranged. We were also shown one of the offices used by Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSP’s). Each of the 108 offices, our guide told us with some pride, has been given a specially designed Contemplation Space; a small semi private window seat. In this retreat, (the shape of which was inspired by Sir Henry Reaburn’s painting of the Reverend Robert Walker skating on Duddingston Loch) the MSPs are encouraged to take some moments away from the everyday grind of politics and to simply sit, relax and think.
I asked an obvious question; do the MSPs use their Contemplation spaces? Our guide gave a small pause before replying.
I shouldn’t think they have the time.