One of the first sights I had of Glasgow was the City Chambers, in George Square. I don’t spend so much time in George Square now. I’m usually rushing past going somewhere else, most often Queen Street Station. But sometimes I stand and look, looking right to the heart of the building’s edifice, to the figure of a woman standing just below the flagpole. She holds a torch, a la the Statue of Liberty. I made a point every time I passed to look towards the City Chambers but I hadn’t seen this until recently, when a friend pointed it out to me.
In George Square, I invariably think of my favourite poet, Edwin Morgan, a great writer of and about this city. One of his more absurd poems is called ‘The Starlings of George Square’ and features the square with many loud starlings fluttering about the place, with the Postmaster General licking an audible stamp and confusions in the square of when’s the last boat to Milngavie and the cables to Cairo getting fankled. In this great place, the centre of many a protest and rally, with its great statues, I can’t help bursting out laughing at the spectacle Edwin Morgan conjured up, breaching the pomposity that could break out if it was anywhere else.
I often walk around the city centre with my head up in the air, looking at the buildings. The streets here are like great canyons, almost like New York but with a more nasal accent. I like to walk through the Merchant City with its street names and houses evocative of the Tobacco Lords who lived there once upon a time. More often I am dashing along Gordon Street towards Queen Street and glance every time up Mitchell Street to the Lighthouse, once the home of the Daily Record and designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, who also designed the School of Art (now thankfully being restored after the fire a couple of years ago) and the Scotland Street School, now a museum.
Having spent a lot of time in Edinburgh, which has its seven hills ‘stretching out like seven cats’ as Norman MacCaig wrote, it is hard to find places in Glasgow where it is possible to get a synoptic view. There are at least two, by the river and in Queen’s Park, that I like to go to. By the Clyde, with its modern buildings’ reflections shimmering in the river, there are a great many places where I like to stand and stare. At Govan, I like to stand by the ferry, looking across to Partick and the Riverside Museum, down river towards the SECC and the Clyde Arc, watching life carry on over the way. I also like being by the SECC, particularly to admire the Clyde Auditorium, a building that evokes shipbuilding with five hulls together like a set of Russian dolls.
Queen’s Park has a wonderful view too, across much of the city in various directions. My favourite is across Govanhill to the river, Ben Lomond and the Kilpatrick Hills beyond. It includes the tower of Glasgow University and many of the city’s modern and older buildings in one great sweep.
I can’t help but feeling hopeful in Glasgow. I just have moments when I feel happy to be here. Most recently I had that feeling yesterday stepping onto Union Street on my way to the bank. Union Street is crowded and not nice but as I walked from Central Station, still I felt like I was in the right place. In the places I have written about above, I feel it just as acutely, a citizen of this place now but still excited and enchanted by it. I hope that never goes away as its charms continue to interest and bemuse in the years to come.