My first impressions of Glasgow during the taxi ride from the airport into the city centre, was where did it go, that black beauty from my childhood memories. It had been over sixty years since I’d last been here. A bus full of children on a five day trip to Glasgow, picked up along the way from Campbeltown to Lochgilphead to have their tonsils removed. Back in the late 50’s this was seen as quite normal, a simple operation to eliminate any chance of tonsillitis in future years. In my case it wasn’t simple. I’d had a haemorrhages and grew progressively weaker. On my arrival back in Campbeltown I collapsed and mother took me immediately to the cottage hospital. There they stuck a pin in my thumb and tried to get blood. I could hear from along the corridor Dr MacPhail shouting down the phone, “How dare you send a child home in such a condition, he’s got no blood in him!” There followed a month’s recuperation, much of it spent in a cot out in the back court yard of our fine Arts and Craft home of Kildalloig. The estate ran to 1000 acres plus the island of Davaar, and it seemed punishment indeed to be pending so much of that summer in bed. Now, I could only hope that my visit would be one with a happier outcome.
As we pulled up at the IWC Offices I was already in a state of shock reeling at the Disney World tragedy that modern architecture had become. This first stop was for a covid test. Whisked upstairs and before I knew it a charming clinician was probing the inner passages of my sinuses in an attempt at a
frontal lobotomy. I felt totally lop sided for the rest of the day and wished she’d reamed out the other side while she was at it. No amount of nose blowing seemed to have the desired effect.
The early morning flight times from Stornoway meant I now had 5 hours to kill before I could gain access to my hotel room. I left my back pack at the check in desk and headed off in search of Glasgow, I was sure I could see it somewhere around Limington Park. A stroll across the footbridge to the north side of the Clyde revealed the brutal architecture that was BBC Scotland, and it seemed a concerted effort had been made during the redevelopment to design buildings that would echo the harshness of the old dockyard area. The planting of trees had gone a long way to making the dockside walk a reasonably pleasant experience and popular with more cyclists than pedestrians.
Weaving my way north I encountered some impressive street art between freeway and railway, art to rival any Banksi. It wasn’t long before the first glimpses of what Glasgow had been started to emerge.
A fine red brick buildings on the corner of Stoke Hill Street, and another domed proclaiming the Messiah has come to Baitur Rahman Mosque at the corner of Haugh road.
The facade of this Glasgow was a lot cleaner than the Glasgow of my childhood. That black Glasgow had no traffic light crossings and policemen directed traffic and busy junctions. My father would panic and desperately ask my mother “What’s he want me to do?” When we stopped at one such junction I remember seeing a heavily whiskered gentleman of the road digging deep into a waste bin. He came up with a big grin on his brown face and a cream bun in his hand. He took a big mouthful and cream spilled out into his whiskered jowls. I was pleased for him and wished mother would buy such delicious looking buns as a change from drop scones. I discovered later what these synthetic cream filled delights taste like, and a better appreciation of my mother’s cooking.I soon discovered that this brighter Glasgow was still dirty, not from the burning of coal but from discarded tin cans and plastic trash, and although easily removed the inability of humans to dispose of their rubbish responsibly is baffling to me.
I eventually made it to Kelvingrove and the park, climbing over the iron fencing through the woods and understory of giant hog weed to the Kelvin River. Although water levels were obviously down it made a pleasant change to hear rushing water when back on Lewis most of the loch fed burns had dries up. What a delight, and a discovery I could have almost believed was mine alone if it wasn’t for the profusion of drinks cans. I was once again reminded of Lord Byron’s words.
There is a pleasure in the pathless woods
There is a rapture on the lonely shore
There is society where none intrude
By the deep sea, and beauty in its roar:
I love not man the less but beauty more.
Making my way back up to the towpath I passed over a bridge bedecked with fine bronze sculptures depicting bygone arts and crafts. The air was heady with the smell of lime blossom and I realised my arrival in Glasgow was perfectly timed for harvesting. I managed to acquire a paper bag from a young woman and started plucking, wondering why nobody else was partaking of such a bounteous harvest. It would seem city dwellers of today have no knowledge of lime blossom infusions, but would quite likely purchase the tea bag equivalent.
On retracing my way back to the hotel I was shocked to see an entire wall of spray paint art had now disappeared under a fresh coat of black paint. I could only hope that it was the artist him, or herself who had organised this in preparation for another masterpiece. Perhaps a sign of our times and the thirst for change, while in Leonardo’s days, payment meant appreciation and preservation of The Last Supper.
By the following morning as I looked out from my bedroom window across the docks to a crisp clear sunrise I felt I had arrived even if I was still undecided as to what could be going on inside such peculiar forms as the Armadillo building directly opposite the Premier Inn.
I hadn’t managed to find the Glasgow of my childhood, the coal black grime of yesteryears has gone, but beyond the fabulously ornate veneer of past wealth and modern opulence lies the problematic Scotch glue of shame. I had discovered a changed and changing 21st century Glasgow that had managed to retain in the face of brutal progress its former glory. During my return trip to the airport the taxi driver made sure to take me via the vast red brick mecca of Ibrox stadium. I was lost for words. Many words did spring to mind, but for once I managed to keep my trap shut. I might yet want to return.