During the five years I’ve produced this blog, I’ve made little mention of the city of Glasgow. Indeed, I don’t think I’ve written about Glasgow at all.
Nothing against the Dear Green Place, which is the meaning of the Gaelic version of its name, Gleas chu. (The Dear Green Place was also the title of a 1966 novel by Archie Hind, one of the finest works of Glaswegian literature ever.) I just haven’t been there lately. Come to think of it, I’ve only made four brief visits to Glasgow in the 21st century, three of them to attend concerts and the fourth to pick up a new passport at the Passport Office on Milton Street.
However, on December 30th and 31st, 2016, my partner and I got an opportunity to spend a day-and-a-half in the city. Here’s what we did there.
Just before noon on the 30th we got off a train in Queen Street Station and, not wanting to waste time, went out of its southern exit, down the side of George Square and into the Gallery of Modern Art. The gallery was hosting three exhibitions at the time, though only one made much impression on us – a display about the work of the eclectic Scottish filmmaker John Samson, responsible for documentaries “covering topics such as tattooing, amateur railway enthusiasm, clothing fetishism, professional darts and the sex lives of disabled people.”
But the building is handsome, especially the lobby and the spaces above it. Oval-shaped openings with ornate balustrades on each floor allow you to look all the way up from the lobby to a gorgeous glass dome with a spider’s-web pattern of panes in the roof.
Maybe the most famous work of art at the gallery is the statue on a plinth outside its entrance, of the Duke of Wellington on horseback. What makes the statue iconic is how the old warrior’s head has, for many years, disappeared into the interior of a Glaswegian traffic cone, perched on top of him like a dunce’s cap. Any attempts by the city council to remove the thing have prompted an outcry – the common argument being that the statue and cone constitute a Glaswegian landmark and symbolise the city’s healthy disrespect for authority.
In the early afternoon we checked into our hotel at Pacific Quay on the River Clyde. Once the site of the commercial docks Plantation Quay and Princes’ Dock Basin, Pacific Quay is now a redeveloped area serving as (to quote its website) “Scotland’s most important location for broadcasting, media, digital and creative industries.” Its attractions include the headquarters of BBC Scotland, housed in a six-storey glass box; the Glasgow Science Centre, whose building is a truncated hemisphere with a slanted-back glass façade; the Clyde Arc bridge, whose most prominent feature is a big steel hoop above its main span; the SSEC Hydro, a concert and conference arena shaped like a giant bucket; and another concert and conference venue, the Clyde Auditorium, whose segmented shell has earned it the nickname of ‘the Armadillo’, though looking at it across the river from our hotel-room I thought it looked more like a giant woodlouse.
One relic from the old days is the hulking Finnieston Crane, which loaded and unloaded ships from 1932 to 1969. Rather sadly, it’s marked on Google Maps with a little medieval-tower symbol that denotes a ‘historical monument’.
Despite there being crowds of kids hanging out around the SSEC Hydro and Clyde Auditorium, most of the quay felt oddly bleak and empty – like a post-industrial ghost town. Perhaps it was because of the grim end-of-year weather. A vaporous ash-grey sky seemed to press down upon the tops of those architectural boxes, hemispheres, hoops, buckets and shells and it drained the scene of life and colour.
In the mid-afternoon, we walked north from the quay to Kelvingrove Park and then to Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. In contrast to Pacific Quay – a study in grey – the park seemed on this wintry day to have been coloured with a palette containing nothing but shades of brown. It was populated with brown leafless trees and littered with fallen brown leaves. Even the gothic Glasgow University Tower that rose above the park’s far edge looked like an extension of its brown foliage.
The gallery was hosting an exhibition by Alphonse Mucha, about which I’ll write in detail in the near-future. Meanwhile, part of its foyer floor was devoted to the Glasgow Boys, the two-dozen-or-so artists who in the late 19th and early 20th centuries pioneered the celebrated Glasgow Style of painting – about whom I’ll also write more in future. By the time we’d viewed Mucha and the Glasgow Boys, the building was ready to close, which meant there were still many parts of it we hadn’t seen. Which means we’ll need to make a return visit someday.
Incidentally, I appreciated the fifty or so disembodied heads hanging above the foyer. Devised by Sophy Cave in 2005, these heads are bald and albino and variously yawn, smirk, grimace and gurn. They’re simultaneously funny and creepy.
After stopping off at a branch of the craft-beer pub-chain BrewDog opposite the gallery – which, pleasantly, seemed to cater for a range of ages, including grumpy old farts like myself, and not just the loud young hipsters who often seem to fill BrewDog pubs elsewhere – we headed back to the city centre. There, we ate at an Italian restaurant on Hope Street and then retired to a rock-music-themed pub further up the street called Rufus T. Firefly. It happened to be showing Joe Dante’s anarchic Christmas movie Gremlins (1984) on a big screen – yay!
The following morning, my better half, Mrs Blood and Porridge, resolved to do some shopping in the Argyle Street branch of Next. I left her to it and took a wander around Buchanan Street. The first time I ever visited Glasgow, I was with my family, I was eight years old, we lived in Northern Ireland and we were over in Scotland on a holiday. I was a big fan of Jon Pertwee-era Doctor Who and one of my main memories of that visit was spotting what looked like the Doctor’s Tardis, i.e. an old blue police box, standing on the corner of Buchanan Street and Gordon Street. More than 40 years later I discovered that the thing is still there, though the sign at the top now says HOTDOGS instead of POLICE. I wonder if the current Doctor, the Glaswegian actor Peter Capaldi, goes to that corner whenever he’s back in town and plays jokes on passers-by by leaping out from behind the police box and accosting them in character.
Later in the morning, we walked to Glasgow Cathedral, which is nearly nine centuries old and is a rare example of a Scottish medieval church that survived the Reformation wholly intact. The hill behind the cathedral is home to the city’s famous Necropolis and bristles with stone crosses, columns, plinths, sepulchres and stelae, but we didn’t have enough time to explore it and besides, the weather was turning wet and wintry again. Instead, we contented ourselves with looking around inside the cathedral itself. And again, this may be the basis of a future blog-entry.
That was all we had time for, save for lunchtime drinks in the Horseshoe Bar on Drury Street, famous for its 104-foot bar-counter that’s supposed to be the longest in the UK – although since it’s an island bar rather than one than runs in a straight line, you may not notice its great length.
And so ended my first substantial visit to Glasgow in many years. My verdict? There’s plenty to see and do, the people are hospitable, much of the city is handsome and it won’t be long before I’m back. Though I hope next time the Dear Green Place really is green, as opposed to grey or brown.