The Bass Rock’s doppelganger

Ailsa Craig
I didn’t know until recently that the Ailsa Craig, a big hunk of granite in the middle of the Firth of Clyde, is twelve times the area and three times as high as the Bass Rock, its doppelganger in the Forth. Having grown up in Dunbar, I am considerably more familiar with the Bass and so I always think of the Ailsa Craig as being the lesser relation, even though I now know the western version is much, much larger. Things always have to be bigger and better through here, eh? Anyway, it got me thinking about Ayrshire. Going down there is always exciting to me. I grew up at the other side of the country so the rolling coastline south of Ayr and Girvan is exotic, with an unfamiliar vista to the Ailsa Craig and beyond on a good day to Arran, Kintyre and Northern Ireland. The first time I went was when I was a kid and there was a brief stopover at Girvan en route somewhere else. I was entranced by the Ailsa Craig and bought a postcard of it to take home. (My main memory of that particular trip, though, was getting a can of Mango and Mandarin Lilt, which was my favourite and can never be found anywhere.) Ever since, I love being in that part of the country. When I went to Northern Ireland last year, I thought all the way down to the ferry at Cairnryan that even this journey was enough to see me for a while, let alone the trip across the North Channel. (For posts on that particular trip, please see (North) Channel crossingUlster MuseumTrains and that.)

Bass Rock
The Bass Rock is far more familiar to me. When I see it, I have a similar response to when I clap eyes on the Ailsa Craig: I just smile, sigh and relax. I may have written before about how it looks different from different angles, whereas the Ailsa Craig looks remarkably similar from wherever you happen to see it. From Dunbar, the Bass looks craggy and intimidating while from North Berwick it is more of an island affair. Across the Forth in Crail, Cellardyke and Anstruther the Bass looks more like a tooth, a monolith as opposed to the bumpy land just beyond it in East Lothian. I’ve never actually been though I have been close. When I was a teenager we went out on a fishing boat and went quite close to the Bass, if not right up to it. It is one of the largest seabird colonies in the world and in the summer there can be thousands of gannets on it, turning the rock a bright white. I gather that the Ailsa Craig has quite a few gannets on it too but I’ve never quite seen that shade of bright, glossy white anywhere else.

Hugh MacDiarmid wrote a poem which began ‘Scotland small? Our multiform, our infinite Scotland small?’ Our country is a multiform and that is particularly evident when thinking of our coastline. Both sides of the country are rugged with lots of jagged edges that Slartibartfast of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy would be very proud of. Scotland isn’t very symmetrical but the Ailsa Craig and the Bass Rock make up for it, two lumps of rock in the sea at either side of the country, at either side of the Lowland Fault. For a Dunbar boy like me, the Ailsa Craig is still a tribute act, even if it is far bigger than I realised before.

Sources and further reading –

Haswell-Smith, Hamish, An Island Odyssey, 2014, Edinburgh: Canongate

MacDiarmid, Hugh, ‘Scotland small?’, accessible via http://www.scottishpoetrylibrary.org.uk/poetry/poems/scotland-small

 

Streets of Glasgow: Gordon Street


Gordon Street is probably the street in Glasgow I use most often, invariably darting along it at considerable speed to catch a train at either Central or Queen Street. It is the street that helped to inspire this Streets of Glasgow series since it is despite being a busy, thriving city thoroughfare also architecturally stunning. I finally got round to it one wet Sunday evening with half an hour to kill before my train home. I started from the Buchanan Street end and reached the Hope Street in barely 10 minutes, having spent much of the time looking up and noticing many more details and stunning architectural features than I had previously appreciated. The Royal Bank of Scotland was the first building to give me pause – with its various heads and finer touches. I wonder if the folk dining in the heated tent below ever look up. It’s worth it at every turn on Gordon Street for most of the buildings will reward a closer glance, layered and diverse with each bound along the way. A particular highlight was the building above the Co-op, which houses offices for the legal firm Harper Macleod, which is all glass and reflects the tops of its surrounding buildings.


I had to stop outside Central Station and look back along at what I had missed. Even the building on the corner that houses Greggs is gorgeous, with a cupola on the top. Quite a few Greggs branches in Glasgow city centre are in nice buildings, like the one on Queen Street and the new one on Argyle Street next to Waterstone’s. The red sandstone building above the new Sainsbury’s, Standard Buildings, is also very handsome and detail-laden. I also stopped by the Citizen Firefighter sculpture outside the Grand Central Hotel. I didn’t know until I looked it up just now that the sculpture was designed to pay tribute to the firefighters of Glasgow, past and present. With the fire at Grenfell Tower in London still fresh in our minds, I can’t help but admire those who brave these conditions every day to protect us all. It is fitting and works with its surroundings too.


Of course the walk finished at Central Station, quite handily since it was where I had to get my train home. Central Station is the biggest and busiest station in Scotland and it is certainly the most architecturally interesting, with the possible exception of St. Enoch Subway nearby. As I walked up for my train, a CrossCountry express pulled up, bound for Newcastle. For a few moments, I was tempted to jump on it but that would have been too far for one weekend. Gordon Street manages to combine a lot in not a lot, roughly 300 yards to be precise, and it’s always worth looking up to find yet more, just like on a departure board when impulse wants to take you further. Another time, certainly, but I was happy where I was, awestruck once more by the beauty of this city, hidden in plain sight.

Kilchurn Castle


Buses and trains from Glasgow to Oban pass through Dalmally, a village right in the middle of Argyll on the shores of Loch Awe. Either mode will reward the passer-by with an excellent view over Loch Awe towards a castle that sits on its edge. Kilchurn Castle is gorgeous and this being Scotland, its grey stone walls appear on countless books and tourist brochures. Unlike most other achingly photogenic castles in Scotland, Kilchurn Castle not only isn’t signposted but is absolutely free to get into, along a path from a small car park. I had never been and it was only when passing by one day recently that I finally managed to get there.

It was the start of July and the weather was changing by the minute, the sun appearing then hiding behind the clouds. A jacket was a good bet. We parked in a glorified layby and only realised we were on the right road when we saw a small sign on the ground in Historic Scotland style with an arrow below the words ‘TO THE CASTLE’. Just beyond the gate was a red railway bridge that I recognised as on the West Highland Line to Oban. Around us were fields of grass and hills beyond. Along the shoreline on both sides were tents housing anglers and other campers braving the Scottish summer in all its glory. We soon came to the castle and despite being in the middle of Argyll, there were a good few folk about, tempted by its location possibly, maybe some others familiar and here on purpose. One was a family with a wee boy, not long on his feet by the look of him but merrily toddling around nevertheless.


We had been to quite a few Historic Scotland castles and some much less substantial than Kilchurn. We were impressed. It was ruined but we liked that. There was a tower house with a range that would have housed kitchens and apartments on the northern side. It was very easy to walk around and imagine what had once stood there. What made it, though, was the location. Through every window there was an incredible view, up the loch or across to mountains. We wandered for a while then decided to start south. We weren’t the only ones. When we left the castle, we heard a train approaching up the side of Loch Awe, heading for Glasgow. It probably arrived here much the same time as I did but those on board hopefully looked the right way and saw this castle and wondered and planned a visit here, one day finally coming to fruition.

Streets of Glasgow: Battlefield Road

Battlefield Road

If I’m honest, I wasn’t sure whether a walk along Battlefield Road would work. I worked in the area for two years and it’s very familiar. There was a very real likelihood I would run into someone I knew en route. (I didn’t.) But I decided to give it a go anyway, since I knew I could spin this post into something a lot longer if I had to. I started from the Mount Florida end, passing the churches on the corner then a flooring showroom that was all glass on the outside, which seems to defeat the purpose. Under the railway bridge and up to the junction with Holmlea Road was all tenements, grey and red, non-descript Glasgow. I could be anywhere in the city. Then I turned the corner and the familiar skyline came into view, the chimney pots and the cupolas and spires of the old Victoria Infirmary, added to by the more recent angular outline of the Glasgow Clyde College. To the left was a line of food shops, separated by the Job Centre, currently up for sale as part of a Government cost-saving plan that has seen a local campaign start to save it, alas without success.

Skyline

I soon came to the junction and stopped to look at the Battlefield Rest, probably the most elegant tram shelter in the city and now an Italian restaurant. There were plans afoot at one point to put an old tram car outside it to add to the dining experience but I think that might be too much personally.

Junction
Battlefield Rest

Just behind the Battlefield Rest is the old Victoria Infirmary, now being redeveloped into luxury flats. I went on a tour last September, which I wrote about here. All the work seems to be internal just now so the building looks just the same as ever despite the boards on the outside advertising that they are now owned by Sanctuary Homes. The old Vicky still dominates the cityscape up and down Battlefield Road even while there is much less of a bustle now most of its operations have decamped to the new hospital in Govan.

Victoria Infirmary

On the left as I walked up the hill was Langside Library, where I worked for just over two years. Unfortunately by the rules of the Streets of Glasgow project, it is actually on Sinclair Drive as opposed to Battlefield Road so I couldn’t go in as I passed. Fortunately, though, the side of the building faces onto Battlefield Road so I can report that the garden was looking great and the building is now scaffolding-free after the issues with the cupola.

Beyond the library were quite a few Battlefield-named businesses, reflecting the wider area’s claim to fame as the scene of the Battle of Langside on 13th May 1568 between the forces of Mary, Queen of Scots and the Earl of Moray over who ruled Scotland. It certainly wasn’t for Queen Mary as her forces got decisively gubbed. A lot of the streets around Battlefield Road have names relating to Mary, Queen of Scots and her life, including Dundrennan Road named after the Abbey where the Queen spent her last night in Scotland and Lochleven Road after the Castle where Mary abdicated. I walked up to the monument at the top of the hill, passing a blockish electricity substation apparently an example of the ‘Wrenaissance style favoured by Glasgow Corporation’, according to my Pevsner’s guide. I spent a fair bit of time looking at the details and flourishes of the obelisk from all angles around the roundabout. The monument was dedicated in 1887 and it shows judging by the style of the sculpture and most certainly its scale. Standing by the monument gave a great view down Battlefield Road towards the College and the Battlefield Rest but also the other way to the Church on the Hill restaurant, once Langside Hill Church, a fine classical structure with pillars. It, like the monument, was designed by Alexander Skirving.

Monument
Church on the Hill

Thinking on it later, this walk was a closer look into the familiar rather than yielding much fresh insight. It was nice to be there as a person rather than for work though being there as a blogger with a purpose outweighed the emotional attachment I would otherwise have felt to a place I spent two happy years. I’m quite sure I’ll be back, though, in one way or another.

Battlefield Road

Sources and further reading:

Glasgow City Council, Langside Heritage Trail, 2012, second revised edition, available at https://www.glasgow.gov.uk/CHttpHandler.ashx?id=32316&p=0

Searle, Adrian and Barbour, David, Look Up Glasgow, 2013, Glasgow: Freight Books

Williamson, Elizabeth, Riches, Anne and Higgs, Malcolm, The Buildings of Scotland: Glasgow, 2005, New Haven, CT/London, Yale University Press

 

Digest: June 2017

This month I haven’t been terribly far. Just working a lot, living life, all that jazz. I’ve had to look at the photos on my phone to see where I’ve been that’s worth noting. On 2nd June, I was at the dentist. Just before I went in for my scale and polish (no fillings required), I had a wee turn around Elder Park, donated to the people of Govan by Isabella Elder. I have written a post about Elder Park, which will be published on the blog in late July, I think. I don’t get down that way as often as I used to, even while it is barely a mile away.

Elder Park

The following night I went out to dinner in Glasgow city centre. I had time to kill before my train home so undertook one of the Streets of Glasgow walks down Queen Street. It wasn’t my favourite of the series but I particularly liked the building above Greggs.

Billy Connolly mural by Jack Vettriano in Dixon Street, Glasgow

Friday 16th June I went on the trail of the Billy Connolly murals. I went on the bus into the town, along Paisley Road West as I sometimes like to do, just observing the city going about its business. I liked the Billy Connolly murals immensely, particularly the Vettriano one. I walked from the third mural, the Rachel McLean one on the Gallowgate, and down through the Gorbals to start another Streets of Glasgow walk, this time down Cathcart Road. I just felt like walking and I enjoyed watching the world change past my feet. I sat in Cathkin Park a while and noticed that it was looking very overgrown, though some of the posts have been painted green and white for some unknown reason. Third Lanark played in red so goodness knows. After that, I did the second Streets of Glasgow walk of the afternoon, this time along Battlefield Road, which despite being familiar was enjoyable and yielded a lot of interest – post appears sometime in the next couple of weeks.

Cathcart Road

That Sunday was the day of the Open Day at Easter Road and it got considerably warmer and sunnier as I travelled eastwards. Easter Road was mobbed but it was good to be back. I wrote about it the other day. Afterwards I walked up to Ocean Terminal, changing into my new Hibs top as my T-shirt was drenched in sweat. It was really too warm. I got a bus to Elm Row and then another out to Prestongrange, my old work, where I wandered about Morrison’s Haven before sunbathing for a bit. I then headed over the way for a walk around the site, reliving old times and trying to imagine what had once happened there. A real Carlsberg sort of day.

 

Easter Road
Prestongrange

Most of the rest of my photos for June reflect that I worked nearly all of the rest of the month. When I was walking home one night, I stopped on the flyover at Cardonald and noticed how I could see for miles across the city, to the University, Park Circus and the riverside at the Science Centre. I like a view like that, not quite synoptic but good enough.

View across Glasgow to Science Centre

Today I was in Dunfermline, really just for lunch, then went home via Edinburgh. It was nice to be out of the routine, even for a little while.

View from Dunfermline to Forth Bridges

July looks set to be interesting. I am away for the day tomorrow and football starts again so I will be out and about across the country. I have a few days up for grabs and I have annual leave at the end of the month too. Maybe a Streets of Glasgow walk or something else. We’ll see what happens. Until then, thanks again to all readers. Post on Sunday is about the greatest band in the world, The Proclaimers. Stay tuned.

Posts published this month –

Digest: May 2017

Walking in cities you don’t live in

Seaweed

Streets of Glasgow: Queen Street

Clipboards

Edinburgh Waverley

Sir Billy

Real men

Suggestion box

Streets of Glasgow: Cathcart Road

20 years on from the Philosopher’s Stone

Wallace and Gromit

Easter Road

 

Easter Road

Lego version of Easter Road

Recently, the Hibernian Historical Trust had an Open Day at Easter Road. The Trust opened the ground to hundreds of us as part of the Leith Festival, laying on exhibits and trails and all sorts. I have done the tour before – it was a Christmas present a couple of years ago – but I never like to pass up a trip to Easter Road, especially since it’s still the close season and I am starved of football, or at least football played the Hibs way. I had been humming and hawing about making the trip, especially on a Sunday when normally I can’t be bothered to venture far. But still I did and when I reached Albion Place and turned towards the West Stand where the tour started, the queue was almost up to the Ticket Office. Soon, though, I was inside and going up the stairs into the stadium. The queue didn’t let up pretty much the whole way around the West Stand and the Players’ Lounge was absolutely stowed out with people. There was a danger of getting overwhelmed for most of the time I was there and so I took my time going around the exhibits as the crowds slowly faded away. This was particularly helpful when I reached the Gallery and I read the panels about the early days of the club. There is a guy who has been making Lego models of most of the football grounds in the UK – he’s on Twitter at @brickstand if you care to look. Anyway, he has made one of Easter Road, which the Club had on display, and it was fantastic, with lots of details that made me marvel about how dedicated people can be. Or absolutely bonkers, depending on your view.

East Stand
Famous Five and East Stands
Blankets

A later part of the route led me into the Boardroom, which has some interesting exhibits including a new display about the Scottish Cup Final. I didn’t get much chance to look as it was still mobbed and I decided to take full advantage of the next stop being the Director’s Box and take a breather. On the way I took particular delight in spotting the heavy tartan blankets gathered carefully in a basket by the door. Those of us who slum it in the East Stand don’t get those, that’s for sure. The Director’s Box is right in the centre of the West Stand and their posteriors are treated well there, not only with blankets but soft black leather seats. I sat for a while at the edge of the Director’s Box and looked across the stadium, watching the steady line of people pass along the touchline. I also just liked being at the ground again. It’s not even been two months but when a very consistent part of life isn’t there for a while, it’s hard. Being able to just sit there, look out and catch my breath was immensely enriching and valuable, to keep myself enjoying my day and to be in one of my favourite places.

Yup, it really happened
That’s me
Between the West and South Stands
Easter Road

The Hibernian Historical Trust do very good work. I drew on some of it for the recent post Hibstory. They have worked closely with the club to make the very modern Easter Road more steeped in the club’s history. The press room has a display about the Hands Off Hibs campaign, when Hibs nearly merged with Hearts back in 1990. Each of the other rooms in the West Stand is stuffed full of Hibs memorabilia and they made an extra special effort for the Open Day, including my personal favourite artefact, the Persevered banner that bedecked the open top bus the day after the Cup Final, signed by the full squad. This I saw on the way to the dressing room, which is quite cosy and basic, then to the TV interview room with one of those lovely ad boards where I got a selfie. Then out the tunnel to the dugout to get a good look from the player’s point of view to the hallowed turf. Ever more people were around me but I still managed to get to be on my own to get photos of the stadium from different angles. I love architecture and once I wanted to design football stadiums. That’s not what I want to do as a grown up now but I retain an interest.

East Stand
Arthur’s Seat
East Stand concourse

If Easter Road has a fault, it is a very boxy ground, with the stands pretty much identical. Aside from where I sit and possibly the upper section of the Famous Five Stand, there isn’t much of a view. From the back of the East Stand, though, the top of Arthur’s Seat soon came into view and even with the heat of the day, there were still loads of people climbing up the hill. I walked up the East Stand and it was there that I felt like at last I was at home. Later in the day I went to Prestongrange, where I used to work, and I had the same feeling of utter contentment of being in the right place as I did being back in the East. I sit in the middle of the East so I don’t normally see the bits of the concourse at either end. There is an elaborate drawing of the club’s badge, with the harp and castle, at the southern end, and also some prints of the programmes of important Hibs games around the walls. In the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this year, the East concourse is being used to host a play called A Field Of Our Own, about the early days of Hibs, produced by Strange Town in conjunction with the GameChanger Public Support Partnership. It is a massive space and I look forward to going along to see how it’s used to its best effect for the play, as well as to enjoy the play itself.

From there I went along into the Famous Five Stand and through the concourse into the club shop. Along the way there was another great queue for folk to get photographs with the Championship trophy as well as those recently won by the Hibs Ladies team.

For many people, football stadiums aren’t fun places to spend a Sunday afternoon. Fair enough. It is the people who make a place. I was thinking earlier about how I have become more of a Hibs fan since I moved to Glasgow. It is a deep link to my identity, to my roots as a person, to my family and places I don’t visit all that often any more. It’s why the other day when the fixture list for the upcoming season came out, within minutes I had my diary marked up and annual leave booked and the whole works, the next year of my life planned by the whim of the SPFL computer. It’s why I went to Edinburgh on a Sunday and went around a football ground in the close season, because it’s Easter Road and it’s Hibs and that’s just what had to be.

 

Streets of Glasgow: Cathcart Road


For a few minutes, I wasn’t sure if I was actually on Cathcart Road. I had walked from the city centre through the Gorbals to where I thought Cathcart Road started, by the Brazen Head pub, but it was only when I checked Google Maps and a nearby bus stop that I was certain I was in the right place. The first Cathcart Road sign didn’t appear until I had crossed the motorway, well into the walk. This walk was the first of the Streets of Glasgow series to brave the south side of the city, a grievous oversight since I actually live south of the Clyde, and Cathcart Road was picked owing to its proximity to the city centre but also because it crosses a fair bit of the south side in its 2-mile stretch. I hoped it would be interesting and so it proved pretty much immediately as I came up to the ruined Caledonia Road Church, which had been part of a project called Stalled Spaces during the Commonwealth Games in 2014 and still had signs of development behind a fence. The frontage is stunning, an Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson design with Greek and Italian touches. In all the time I’ve lived in Glasgow, I never stop being surprised by the beautiful buildings I encounter in all parts of the city. The Gorbals and Govanhill, where I would be in a few minutes, are both places with more than their fair share of problems though they also have a fair few cracking buildings.

Caledonia Road Church
Caledonia Road Church
Across the road was the head office of First Glasgow, the city’s main bus operator. First aren’t the best though they are better in Glasgow than they used to be in the east coast. It says it all, though, that the two cars nearest the entrance were both Jaguars. Perhaps they are washed just along the road in a car wash dubbed World’s No. 1, which made me wonder how these things can possibly be measured objectively.

First depot
Car wash
Govanhill is one of the most ethnically diverse places in Scotland and it very swiftly showed as I crossed the motorway in the great variety of people around me from all parts of the world. The shops also gave a clue, with considerable culinary choice, including at least two that served up both sweets and kebabs, an odd mix but one I could understand given that some Muslims have very sweet teeth. The displays in the clothes shops around Allison Street are incredibly vivid and colourful and I enjoyed just looking around me on this part of the walk. Having said that, Govanhill also is a place many people don’t feel comfortable lingering in. I walked at a steady pace, interested in my surroundings as ever but hastening on nevertheless.

Clothes shop on Allison Street
Diversity of shops in Govanhill
When I reached Albert Road, there was a noticeable difference, as if that was where Govanhill stopped and Crosshill began. The buildings even changed colour, the older red sandstone tenements giving way for a bit to more modern grey and white clad houses. The railway bridge above Crosshill Station was more traditional, though, the product of good old Victorian engineering in Motherwell. I soon came to Cathkin Park, a place I know well, once the home of Third Lanark, now a park with terracing being slowly taken into nature. I paused there only to take a photo – it is on Cathcart Road, after all – but returned a bit later to pause, ponder and scribble notes from this walk.

Cathrin Park
A few minutes later, I came to the junction with Prospecthill Road and thus into Mount Florida, the street red sandstone like Govanhill but a bit more affluent and posh Western, including the peculiar juxtaposition of a trendy chip shop with a cheesy name like Hooked. Also there was a gift shop which had window displays marking that Father’s Day was coming that Sunday, including the immortal legend, ‘My Paw Is Pure Braw’. Now, I don’t know if anyone in Scotland, let alone this city, outside of The Broons, refers to their faither as Paw but I know that referring to something as ‘pure’ is a Weegie expression while ‘braw’ is an east coast word, with most usages in Glasgow probably by me. It’s a linguistic and dialectical mishmash but it’s a nice one so we’ll let it slide this time.

I forgot about the cheesy pun on the other window
Before the walk finished, I had two more good buildings to look over. One was Mount Florida Primary School, an old fashioned Victorian schoolhouse in red sandstone like so many others in both Glasgow and Edinburgh, while the other was the Clockwork Beer Company, which I am told is a fine drinking establishment, with a cupola and elegant decoration on the gable in the centre. As I reached Holmlea Road, still short of Cathcart but the end of its Road, I thought on how I had enjoyed my walk a lot, the longest of these walks so far but also the most diverse in a lot of ways, taking me through at least four distinct parts of the city in just shy of an hour. There were a few ideas of places to read more about, like the Caledonia Road Church, but in the meantime I backtracked to Cathkin, leaving the city street behind for a few minutes for the eerie still of the park.

Suggestion box

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All many writers want is to be read and I am no exception. Writing is such a crucial part of who I am that sometimes I want to share what I write or what I am thinking about with people. Lately I have been able to share what I’ve written with an even larger audience, particularly the recent posts on the Glasgow Women’s Library and my Hibs historical walk. Recently, I have had two suggestions for blog post ideas, which unfortunately probably won’t fill a full blog post each but blended together in an unlikely way might work. They are the sparsity of public toilets and the design of carpets in Glasgow public libraries.

The first one is personal for me since I have IBS – as written about last year in IBS, my gut and travelling – and finding a toilet is sometimes a matter of urgency for me. I know, however, that not all public toilets are that nice or indeed that common around, particularly in big cities. I was talking to one of my colleagues about this and she has a mental map of where toilets are in Glasgow city centre, based on past experience, which I think is eminently sensible. A lot of public toilets have disappeared due to spending cuts in local councils and so finding one tends to involve being creative or taking advantage of where one happens to be to make use. It shouldn’t have to be the case but it is an act essential to success, nay life itself, as verily you have to go when you have to go.

Created with Nokia Smart Cam
Believe it or not, this is the view from an urinal, at the Shard in London
The second suggestion is sort-of linked as one place that does have a public toilet is the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) in Glasgow city centre. GOMA was once the Stirling’s Library and it houses a branch library now but I don’t think its carpet is that picturesque. Some of Glasgow’s libraries have incredible carpets, some based on locality like Elder Park and the Glasgow Women’s Library, others are just plain psychedelic. I worked for Glasgow Libraries for two years and I came to know some of the best ones, like Pollokshields, Cardonald and the Mitchell Library. Sadly I don’t have pictures of these but I believe the Mitchell Library’s carpets even have a Facebook fan page. When I left Langside Library, I was presented with a tote bag bearing the carpet’s design, which was greatly appreciated since I always have a use for a tote bag and also that my erstwhile colleagues listened some of the time while I blethered on. Libraries are places with personality, of those within them as well as of the place itself. I have had the great pleasure to work in some old ones, some not so old, and each has a character. It just takes spending the time.

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Elder Park Library
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Glasgow Women’s Library
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Langside Library tote bag. Limited edition
The blog is 300 posts old or 22 months in actual time. Some of the posts have been good, some all right, others mince. I like to write the longform essays the best and there have been a few crackers this year so far, particularly from the Streets of Glasgow series but also Real men and Hibstory. I have also been trying to branch out and I will be sending out a couple of pieces for competitions in the coming weeks. Thanks to all readers for their comments and for being here. It is appreciated, believe me, and keeps me going forward. Onto the next 300.

Sir Billy

BBC Scotland occasionally comes in for some stick. It is either too Glasgow-centric or too pawky and provincial, too pro-SNP or too Unionist, for or against Celtic, Rangers, Hearts, Hibs and any other group. The commissioning editors down at Pacific Quay have managed to produce no fewer than three programmes in the last few weeks which have been right up my alley, about the history of Paisley, the Proclaimers and Billy Connolly. That’s not to mention that Sportscene will soon be graced once more by the Hibees as they return to the Premiership. With Billy Connolly, they have played a blinder, producing a trail of three murals of the Big Yin around Glasgow city centre in conjunction with Glasgow City Council and Art Pistol Projects. The programme about the project played out on Wednesday. I went to see the murals yesterday. This morning, the Queen’s Birthday Honours came out and Sir William Connolly arose. I am personally against the honours system but for Sir William, and the posthumous award for PC Keith Palmer, I will make an exception. I would rather it was them than arms dealers and other shady characters like politicians.

Billy Connolly has long been a hero of mine. In my teens, I became very interested in comedy and amassed a considerable collection of Billy Connolly CDs and DVDs. He just has an incredible mind and can make almost anything funny, even the Parkinson’s disease he lives with. Laughter is vital for life and over many years Billy Connolly’s words have made me howl over and over again.

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The murals were produced by three Scottish artists, Jack Vettriano, John Byrne and Rachel MacLean, and appear in three locations in Glasgow city centre. Vettriano’s scene of Billy in Wick is on Dixon Street behind St. Enoch Centre while Byrne’s is nearby on Osborne Street. Rachel MacLean’s more outlandish one appears on the Gallowgate, just along from the Barrowland Ballroom. Yesterday I ventured into town by bus, getting off by Central Station and walking back along the river to Dixon Street where I encountered the Jack Vettriano mural, which depicts Billy Connolly, beard-less, standing on a clifftop near Wick while on his World Tour of Scotland in 1994. I was glad I encountered this one first as I know Vettriano’s work the best from his exhibition at Kelvingrove a few years ago and also from Kirkcaldy Art Gallery. In the documentary, Vettriano came across as an utter groupie when he was shown meeting Billy and that was rather sweet, Vettriano utterly awestruck to be in the presence of the great man. I liked this one the best, to be honest, particularly for the grey sky with tinges of white and blue. It looks much better in person than on the TV. Vettriano is a man of the east, albeit many miles south in Fife, so he kens the score with the sky. The mural was in a beer garden and there were a few others snapping and at least two selfies. At that point, I beat a hasty retreat.


At the other side of the St. Enoch Centre is Osborne Street, mainly a place to get a bus to outlying parts of the city but also a vast open space with car parking between all these shops. I came across the John Byrne mural all of a sudden, just turning my head and it was there. I liked this one for its honesty and details in sketching the lines and contours of Billy’s hair and face. There was a crowd of people snapping this one, all in a line down the pavement. I snaffled the best spot as the crowds quickly dispersed.


Rachel Maclean’s mural is the most outlandish and probably the closest to Billy Connolly’s more off-the-wall fashion sense. It is on the Gallowgate, just along from the Barras and the Barrowland Ballroom. It is the furthest from the city centre and so the one I had to myself for the longest. Inevitably the same couple I had seen at the other two swiftly appeared at my heels. This mural has a lot going on, a lot of subtle and not-so-subtle allusions to Billy’s routines over the years, as well as a modern background of a Glasgow street by night, lit by the sodium of a chippy. Appropriately, though, as I walked away I got a waft of a chippy frying on the wind. This one has my favourite story and style, even though it is also the most bonkers. In a good way.

Of the three, my favourite is the Jack Vettriano, the nicest in person if not on screen. That might have been coloured by his demeanour in the documentary as well as the sky which played to the east coast boy in me. All three murals, though, are a very fitting tribute to Billy Connolly in his 75th year, a much better honour than a medal could ever be.

Streets of Glasgow: Queen Street

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Psychogeography is a funny thing. It is a concept about trying to understand cities better. Perhaps not at 8.30 on a Saturday night, though, especially when the only person sober within a five-mile radius. I had some time to kill before my train home and on the spur-of-the-moment I decided to do a quick Streets of Glasgow walk, this time Queen Street, which leads from George Square to Argyle Street. Very swiftly, though, I had a very powerful feeling of being ‘other’. I’ve experienced that a fair bit in my life. I am an autistic, library-assisting, Hibs-supporting, Glasgow-dwelling person after all so it’s hardly new but particularly when all these things come together and I’m trying to see a city street as if for the first time as merry folk shuffle and hustle past. It’s especially hard standing by the statue of the Duke of Wellington when two guys out their faces imitate my photo taking but a glare seemed to have done the trick. But we persevere and eventually I managed to forget it was Saturday night in the centre of the biggest and busiest city in the land and just get down to business.

Strictly speaking, George Square isn’t on Queen Street but I like it anyway. The City Chambers is the nicest civic building in the country. Look for the statue of Liberty below the flagpole. That night the street was mildly busy but earlier in the day it had been jumping, according to the news, with folk marching in favour of Scottish independence. The remnants were still there of the recent vigil in remembrance of and solidarity with the victims of the recent terrorist attack in Manchester. I am writing this post the next morning having just been hearing about another attack in London. All I can say about that is that we cannot ever let the darkness win. George Square is where our city gathers in times of joy as much of sadness and sorrow. I cannot help but think that those times of sadness and sorrow are coming a wee bit too often.

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George Square

The traffic lights at the junction of Queen Street, George Square and St. Vincent Street seemed to take an age. That wasn’t a bad thing as I could start my walk properly and just look up. Queen Street is barely a half-mile from one end to another and so I could quite clearly see Debenhams on Argyle Street and most of the street’s buildings. At the time I wasn’t sure how much of an essay I could get from such a short walk but then I looked above Greggs and found that the building is rather handsome in yellow sandstone with railings half-way up it. My lovely new Pevsner’s guide to Glasgow tells me that it is called Olympic House and describes it as a ‘speculative office block of 1904-6 by James Miller, with the popular Edwardian formula of tower-like outer bays flanking colonnaded upper storeys’. James Miller designed quite a few prominent buildings in the city and beyond, including the Grand Central Hotel and Clydebank Town Hall, incidentally. Something being described as a ‘speculative office block’ is an absolute beauty and sums it up succinctly. It isn’t really trying to be an office block, especially with some of the others down the way not even bothering to be speculative about it.

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Olympic House
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Queen Street. The white building is Debenhams on Argyle Street
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Olympic House again

I wrote about the Gallery of Modern Art in the Ingram Street post so won’t duplicate that but will rather write about the statue outside it. Not so long ago, it came out that Glasgow City Council was spending a staggering sum of money trying to remove the traffic cones that are ever appearing on the statue of the Duke of Wellington, either on his head or that of his horse or both. Now said statue (complete with cone) appears on much of the city’s marketing, some of it funded by that same City Council and its agencies, as an example of how our great city is pure dead brilliant and a bit quirky. I approve of a lot of what the City Marketing Bureau does. They make a virtue of highlighting the lesser-spotted pleasures of our city, including street art. People Make Glasgow is a nice, neat slogan. I’m not bothered about applauding what is essentially vandalism but surely there are better bits of our city’s character to show in our promotional materials, like wit or rain, to name but two. Anyway, I digress. The statue didn’t have a cone on top this time, I think for the first time since I moved to Glasgow, rather an umbrella since it had been raining and hailing earlier in the day, indeed the pavements were still wet from the last downpour. A cone did sit underneath the horse, though, for later reinstallation.

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Gallery of Modern Art
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Duke of Wellington statue
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This is on the steps outside GOMA. Not sure what it’s about yet but I like it

The best architecture on Queen Street comes at either end, at George Square and GOMA or nearer Argyle Street. There’s a building just by Primark and Next which houses offices, a branch of Subway, a coat shop and a bookies. It was another of those buildings with railings but in red sandstone and bearing quite a few elegant lintels and features around each window of its seven levels. Queen Street here is a wee bit run-down with a few shops up for sale or otherwise vacant. It is one of those streets which is purely a thoroughfare, a street you use to go somewhere else. It isn’t the finest street in the city but shows another side, particularly on a Saturday night with the dark, decadent and downright debauched very much on show. It is just another facet to Glasgow. It is a very busy place at night. That isn’t a bad thing, as long as people are happy and safe. In these times, joy should be cherished all the more, whether that is found in a bar or a club or indeed walking a city street looking up and down and recording what is there.

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40 Queen Street, reminiscent of much of the Merchant City

Sources and further reading:

Searle, Adrian and Barbour, David, Look Up Glasgow, 2013, Glasgow: Freight Books

Williamson, Elizabeth, Riches, Anne and Higgs, Malcolm, The Buildings of Scotland: Glasgow, 2005, New Haven, CT/London, Yale University Press