When I worked in museums, local folk would invariably visit and offer the parting comment that ‘I’ve come past here every day for years and never come in’. I would normally reply with ‘well, you’re here now’, said with a cheery smile. Now, though, there are plenty of places near where I live in Glasgow that I’ve never been near. For example, tonight sees Calvin Harris playing a concert in Bellahouston Park. It’s about a mile from here but I’ve never been. I have a major interest in history but I only went to my local Historic Scotland property, Crookston Castle, for the first time in April or May this year. It has cracking views over this bit of the city though I was most excited that I could see my local Morrisons. I like places like Crookston because it’s possible to get what Patrick Geddes called a ‘synoptic view’. I couldn’t quite see my house but this was my part of the world and I felt the same as I do whenever I step off a train at Central or Queen Street, that I am in the right place.
Glasgow is home now. What I like about it is that I cannot know all its secrets. There’s always something new to discover. A couple of weeks ago, I had an urban ramble through the Southside, into Queen’s Park and ending up at Cathkin Park and the Scottish Football Museum at Hampden. Cathkin I had been to before – it’s a public park now but once was home to Third Lanark FC. The terracing is still there but it is an eery place with some atmosphere. Queen’s Park was entirely new to me despite passing several times a week. The first part I encountered was a rose garden with stones and markers about the place celebrating Scottish poets. This was particularly appropriate since one of Hugh MacDiarmid’s best poems was about a little white rose ‘that smells sharp and sweet – and breaks the heart.’ (As an aside, in May, this poem inspired the 56 SNP MPs to rock up at the House of Commons to take their oaths with little white roses in their lapels.)
The views from the flagpole at Queen’s Park are spectacular, across the city in three directions as far as Ben Lomond and the Campsies. They were the reason I went, inspired by a conversation with a relative who grew up in nearby Govanhill, and I’m glad I did. Glasgow is quite similar to Edinburgh in that it has lots of hills. The only difference is that people usually live in Glasgow’s high places whereas Edinburgh’s sprawl ‘like seven cats’, as Norman MacCaig wrote. I was working in Castlemilk the other day and the views from the back of the shopping centre are brilliant, across the city for miles, bringing to mind Camille Pissarro’s quote that ‘blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where others see nothing’.
Sometimes you don’t need to travel far to get a new perspective on things. John Muir said that one merely had to bend over and look at the world upside down. I get a head rush when I do that so tend to go on a bus or for a walk instead. Or I read. Since I wrote the last sentence, I picked up one of my poetry books and read a few lines. I only had to walk across the room to do that.
Local doesn’t need to mean parochial. I’ve always believed that you can’t understand much of the world if you don’t try to understand the place around you first. Living in a city makes that more complex but it can be much simpler. Glasgow is a collection of areas and rather than thinking of it as one large metropolis, it helps to think of it as smaller villages, each with distinct individual characteristics. The Gorbals, for example, I associate with its library and the Citizens Theatre but also with Oscar Marzaroli who took street photographs there in the 1960s and 70s. Castlemilk is that view. Govan is the Subway, Elder Park and the river. To most folk outside Glasgow, this is one place, One Mean City. It isn’t, not entirely anyway. Every day there is something new here, architecture, a word, a saying, a view or something else still to be defined and discovered.