Glasgow

A belated birthday present from Matt, last Friday we boarded the  Calendonian Sleeper from Euston to Glasgow, departing at 23:15.

Lying on my front in the top bunk of a moving train took me back, right back, to the movements my dad must have made to get me to sleep against his chest. I couldn’t sleep, and listened to Elbow’s Seldom-Seen Kid, Spiritualized’s Amazing Grace, Apparat’s Walls, and Jane’s Addiction’s Ritual de lo Habitual.

When we arrived, the roads around Central Station were so quiet that you could stand in them to take pictures. From the top of West George Street, we could see snow on the hills to the north and the south. I’m not sure what we did to deserve this but the air was mild and the skies clear.

We dropped off our bags and set out looking for breakfast. We walked to the West End – nothing. It was early. We ended up in Starbucks. Starbucks sells Fairtrade coffee and a vegan sandwich. You could do worse. We were there for about an hour in easy chairs, reading the paper.

Then I got out my splitter, hitched myself to Matt and we listened to an audio walking tour I’d downloaded. It started in George Square where the birds find the monuments friendly.

On the way I looked up, saw this:

We suspended the tour at the Cathedral and lost ourselves in the Necropolis.

Late in the afternoon we had lunch at Stereo, part of a family of vegan restaurants in Glasgow. I’d defend these places to the hilt – they are wonderful – but my calzone dough wasn’t cooked.

From there to our hotel and a shower. I booked tickets for Four Deaths at the Centre for Contemporary Art. We fell asleep. Both of us are dog tired most of the time.

I racked my brain over Four Deaths. Four performance artists from Slovenia’s Via Negativa enviously fabricated and enacted death upon their overbearing predecessors and literally cleared the stage for their own creative lives. Update: it was the literary critic Harold Bloom who first came up with this idea of the ‘anxiety of influence‘ – the worry that predecessors have already used up all the original ideas, leading to repossess the patriarchs by retelling their stories in sequels, prequels, or alternative outcomes. Four deaths performs the anxiety of influence.

We were part of an intimately involved audience. Drunk Matt decided we would sit in the front row. Pina Bausch’s performer took my chin in her hand, gazed deep into my face for a long time and pronounced “Frieda Kahlo” before moving on through the audience to finger a Chaplin, Reifenstahl, and others. These days I assiduously pull out the fearsome quantities of hair between my eyebrows, but it wasn’t always the way, I am blessed with very thick shiny black eyebrows and she’s not the first to find a similarity.

After that we were ravenous and ate in Pizza Express, where I had a customised Bosco (i.e. no artechokes instead of mozzarella). Then, on a friend’s recommendation, we went to a pub called the Black Sparrow, where we sat in a little eyrie up against the elaboratedly moulded ceiling and watched the party-goers. We didn’t stay out much longer.

The next day we listened to the portions of audio tour which took us to the Museum of Modern Art.

There I watched some video art from Videonale 12, racking my brains again over Hapless, Helpless and Hopeless by Rob Kennedy and Peter Dowling, 34 minutes pieced together from commercials, and Tom Dale’s Shot Through. Then when I read the accompanying book, I realised that the racking had arrived me in more or less the intended place. Nobody said you didn’t have to work at this art thing – my tendency is to overmystify it if anything.

Next I looked at Multi-Story, an exhibition about Glasgow Housing Association’s Red Road flats. Soon to be demolished, they house the city’s asylum seekers as well as local tenants. Matt was downstairs, where he’d seen something dull about the Palestinian territories. In my spheres you’re never more than hours away from a reference to the Palestinians. For me, particular attachment to a notional Palestinian cause (mostly about our giving, our protest; rarely about what it is to be democrat or a citizen in the circumstances of volatile politics) is a marker of convergent thinking among this intellectual set of people. It’s the first I ever noticed, which is why I feel so suspicious about it and disappointed by it. While we were there, news broke that three people, who may have had applications for asylum refused, tied themselves together and jumped to their deaths. It was the first I’d heard of the Red Road flats, and it remained in mind when I stood looking up at the smashed and open windows of the Gorbals flats later that day.

We ate at Stereo’s sister, 78. The chips were translucent with fat.

I didn’t want to go to the Kelvingrove Museum, but it was lovely. Suddenly a gigantic organ sounded, the beginning of a 30 minute recital which reverberated the whole building. I saw a wonderful portrait of Gorbals children by the photographer Joseph MacKenzie. There was an exhibition of colourists known as the Glasgow Boys, and a room dedicated to the work of Charles Rennie MacIntosh.

Then we walked some miles to the Clyde. The sun was warm!

We crossed to south of the Clyde to see the Gorbals where my Grandpa grew up. Since the ’30s the insanitary tenements he’d have known have been replaced by colossal high rises, now themselves condemned to imminent demolition.

Crossing back across the Clyde we found ourself near Stereo’s second sister, Mono. We had (vegan) cheesecake, beers over the paper and, after a lengthy, soundcheck Second Hand Marching Band crowded onto the stage and faced off against the audience, which they practically outnumbered. I had a little dance. To my great regret we had to leave part way through Aidan Moffat’s set, missing Burnt Island entirely.

Onto the Sleeper and straight to bed, rocked and jiggled to sleep by mama train, rudely deposited at the beginning of the working week around 07:40. I went to work.

Glasgow is a cracking city and if for some reason I was run out of London, it’s where I’d set up home.

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4 thoughts on “Glasgow

  1. The owner of the ‘family of vegan restaurants’ didn’t pay his rates: last I heard he owed this impoverished city £200,000. Glad you enjoyed your visit though.

    • There’s a photographer called joseph mackenzie who spent time with gorbals children snapping them while they played. There’s a book, I think. And I have ralph glasser’s autobiography Growing Up in the Gorbals – he was a little older than my grandpa though.

      Love to think of you playing with the rubbish chute, Despairing. Can just imagine it. And buildings like that are beautiful to look out of. Always live in the ugliest one, I say. Then u don’t have to look at it.

  2. My maternal grandparents used to live in on of the Gorbals high-rises in the 70s. As a kid, I was fascinated by them and always loved visiting, although as an adult I probably would have hated them.

    They lived on the 21st floor and the whole city was laid out through their living room window. It felt like you were on a plane looking down at the passers-by.

    My favourite parts were the drying “green” – every floor had one, an enclosed space that allowed the wind to blow right through the building that residents could hang their washing in.And the “chute” – you put your bin bag into the chute and it would fall 21 stories to the skip at the bottom. We would experiment by putting different things in and seeing what could make the loudest bang!

    There’s a film called Red Road that came out a couple of years ago. Pretty bleak but it might be of interest to you. And the latest on the suicides there was that it was indeed a Russian family who had their asylum application rejected.

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