This was a bit of an experiment. It was a dark, December Sunday night and I was curious how my iPhone would cope with night photography. Plus I was toying with making Nelson Mandela Place, one of the shortest streets in the city, into a zine. I decided fairly swiftly to save that for a longer walk. I came in from the West Nile Street end deliberately since it gave a better view of the St. George’s Tron church that sits primly in the middle of the square. The street was busy with folk leaving the Chaophraya restaurant, not to mention buses which I had to dodge while snapping photos and avoiding being run over. This blogging lark should come with a health warning. This walk, all of five minutes, came with the soundtrack of a busker on Buchanan Street singing ‘Love Me Do’ by the Beatles, not badly at all, as it happens. I walked around twice, seeing what I had missed the first time. I quickly realised that the statues weren’t at their best in the dark.
Nelson Mandela Place was named after the South African leader in 1986 by one of our more left-leaning council administrations. They had already accorded him the Freedom of the City in 1981 and it just so happened that during those dark Apartheid days, the South African consulate sat in what was then known as St. George’s Place. Thus it was that the city fathers and mothers renamed the street Nelson Mandela Place. Mandela did come to Glasgow in 1993. I remember when he died in 2013 that there was a vigil and tributes left outside the St. George’s Tron Church on the street that bore his name. John MacKay presented the STV News from there too that night. This I thought about later. While I walked around Nelson Mandela Place, though, I just looked up and around at my surroundings. The church was designed by William Stark in 1807-1809, influenced by Wren, according to my Pevsner’s guide, which describes the church as forming ‘an arresting point-de-vue at the western end of George Street’. I took pleasure at walking around and enjoying the church from various angles.
During one of my circuits, I noticed a glass on a railing point, perhaps the title of a poem or a shit indie song one day. I looked up into Urban Outfitters and saw great coloured loops in one of the windows. The Chaophraya’s tall, elegant, poised Buddha in the doorway lent a certain surrealism to proceedings, or rather gave them perspective. It is easy to forget that there’s a whole big world out there. In a city built in no small part due to the efforts of slaves, it is right that we have a street named after someone who did his utmost to ensure equality was brought to his country and the wider world. I enjoyed my few minutes’ walk around it and especially being able to ignore the sensory overload of the Christmas lights for just looking up.
Sources and further reading –
The GlasgowStory: Nelson Mandela – http://www.theglasgowstory.com/image/?inum=TGSA00948
Williamson, Elizabeth, Riches, Anne and Higgs, Malcolm, The Buildings of Scotland: Glasgow, 2005, New Haven, CT/London, Yale University Press