MICHAEL Portillo graces East Lothian with his presence tonight. No – wait. I’m trying to be snide but I just can’t. I think Portillo, as a TV presenter, is great and I love his railway series.

In this episode he’s on the last stage of his journey tracing the old route of the Flying Scotsman and stops include Haddington, Musselburgh and Edinburgh.

In Haddington he learns about local boy Samuel Smiles who created the famous Victorian concept of self-help, believing “heaven helps those who help themselves”. But it was a moral belief, not a way of grabbing money and possessions. It was about bettering yourself, not your car and backyard decking.

In Musselburgh he learns about the “fishwives” who gathered mussels on the beach and carried them on their backs to be sold in local towns. They must have been popular when they boarded the trains, laughs Portillo, who finds out if they were indeed “foul-mouthed” as their reputation goes.


IT’S easy to get depressed, or plain annoyed, by modern architecture. Living in Glasgow, every new building I see is a flimsy frame pocked with boxy little windows that calls itself a “student residence”. Why are the architects not embarrassed to see these things erected in their name next to the city’s fine old buildings?

This new series is a reminder that there are still some talented, independent architects at work who would wince at being asked to build bland student flats.

In tonight’s opening episode we see strange homes built in mountainous areas, including one in California assembled from bits of a Boeing 747. In New Zealand, a house uses cedar wood to camouflage itself, and would you feel safe living in a chalet hooked on to the mountainside by its steel chimney?