Demolition and renewal

I’ve been thinking a lot the last couple of days about demolition and renewal. It all started when I came across an old photograph of the Citizens Theatre from the late 1960s, I think, when Gorbals Street looked like countless others in the city, all red sandstone tenements, shops, cars, buses and bustle. It’s not like that now. There are token older buildings around there now but even the Citz has a modern exterior. Thankfully, though, the interior is much older. I was there last night for an adaptation of Lanark by Alasdair Gray, which was strange but compelling, well staged and incorporating Gray’s unique illustrative style to the set dressing. The Citz is about to undergo extensive refurbishment though at the moment it has a cosy, not to imposing sort of feel, which I like.

The Citz and Lanark are a good fit. The story is set mostly in a post-Apocalyptic world where nothing is quite what it seems. The Gorbals landscape is certainly not Apocalyptic but it is a hotchpotch of ’60s grey Brutalism, the Mosque, modern offices and tenements, with open spaces where tumbleweed is readily imagined to, well, tumble. It’s very different to the photograph I saw the other day and the Oscar Marzaroli photographs I saw on a documentary recently, but different doesn’t always mean bad.

This morning I went to my local Morrison’s where there seemed to be a lot of folk standing about in the car park, all facing towards Paisley Road West. After I had been for my messages, I came back out to see even more people and decided to stop, wondering if there was about to be some sort of solar eclypse or alien invasion. There was a helicopter flying overhead, not that uncommon around here given our proximity to the new Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, but there was also a loud siren and then a quiet explosion. This was soon followed by one of the tower blocks behind Lourdes High School falling in on itself and down to the ground in a great plume of dust. They were doing about four one after another, I discovered, but after this one, the rain started pretty much immediately. I liked that sudden landscape change and then the rain, as if to move people along in a ‘nothing more to see here’ kind of way. All that thought came as I walked back home but at the time I was just a testosterone-driven bloke thinking the explosion was pretty bloody cool.

On Saturday, the chimneys at Cockenzie Power Station in East Lothian are to be demolished. I have a bit more affinity with Cockenzie because I grew up in East Lothian and must have passed those chimneys thousands of times. They loom over the county’s landscape, visible from the centre of Edinburgh, North Berwick and the East Neuk of Fife, usually the only thing to blot the landscape from whatever angle. Given that Cockenzie was one of the biggest polluting industrial sites in Scotland not so long ago but lots of folk lost their jobs when the power station closed, I have decidedly mixed feelings, aside from the sense that they’ve always been there and now they won’t be.

I know they haven’t been, not really. East Lothian is an exceedingly historical and geologically significant area with landmarks like Traprain Law, North Berwick Law and the Bass Rock all once volcanoes. A power station built about half a century ago isn’t as venerable nor as significant, obviously, but they have always been there in my lifetime. It will be strange the next time I am through not to see them, looking but not seeing that particular sight as I pass on the train.

Sadly I won’t be able to get through on Saturday. In this digital age, I will be brought up to speed by shaky videos uploaded to the social network of my choice. Seeing with my own eyes that high rise get levelled today was amazing. It gave me a sense of wonder at the demolition just like that in a cloud of dust but it made me think, dream even, of what will come next. It’s life and it goes on but not quite as we know it.


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